Executive Koala / Koara Kachô
d. Minoru Kawasaki / Japan / 2005 / 85 mins
Viewed on: Region 1 DVD
Whilst this mini string of Japanese film treats got (slightly) more serious in the last post with Takeshi Kitano’s bloody pastiche Zatôichi, it’s time to return to the anthropomorphic, Z-grade wackiness that is Minoru Kawasaki, whose Calamari Wrestler set us on our way. Just like Kawasaki’s cephalopodic theatrical debut, this one shouldn’t take much explaining: out with a wrestler who is also a squid, and in with an executive pickle salesman who is – yep, you guessed it – a slim, wobbly headed koala named Tamura.
This time around, however, Kawasaki ratchets up the pastiche ever higher, opening with an anime-esque kawaii theme song (whose lyrics extoll the virtues of our marsupial friend) and setting out to parody everything from the salaryman genre, to slashers, police procedural dramas, kung-fu flicks, musicals and J-horror. And, of course, Kawasaki ensures that more attentive audiences are kept amused with plenty of intertextual japery, from the Calamari Wrestler toy strap on Tamura’s phone, to the now obligatory inclusion of his suit zipper, which stand out almost as much as the wires holding up the planes in the original Godzilla.
Like the squid in Calamari Wrestler, this koala is treated with a certain amount of ambivalence, seen by his peers as less of a ‘monster’ and more like someone of a different ethnicity or race. Initially, there are only passing references to him being anything other than ‘human’, such as when the office girls discuss him as an object of affection, and when a love interest describes him as ‘like an animal’ in bed. In fact, it’s not until halfway through the film that any character expresses genuine incredulity, when a bit-player walks into a convenience store and, seeing Tamura being served by the frog behind the counter, drops her jaw and utters in disbelief – as you would – ‘A koala? A frog?’
Absurdism and surrealism reign supreme under Kawasaki, with the maestro himself calling ‘cut’ at one stage before appearing in a brief cameo as a film director (although this turns out to be part of Tamura’s dream). There is also the (seemingly hallucinated) song and dance number set in a ‘court’, where the inhabitants of Tamura’s hometown (he’s from a village called Sydney in Nango County, Aomori, don’t you know!) testify against him.
Of course, the whole notion of a koala working in sales, who may or may not be a serial killer (à la American Psycho – the possible serial killer bit, not the koala salesman!), plays keenly upon the notion of the Australian marsupial as an almost mythic creature in Japanese popular culture, and one which is keenly attached to a particular Japanese obsession with notions of national identity. A major sub-plot of the film involves another executive who represents a Korean kimchi manufacturer, and who – in some ways – stands in for centuries of strangely familial animosity between the two nations.
The strange state of Japan-Korea relations is tackled directly in two particular scenes (although, being Kawasaki, when I say ‘directly’, I actually mean ‘completely obliquely’): when introduced to the company, the handsome young Korean sales executive is mobbed by the office girls who go crazy for this ‘real Korean’. Later, during a typically ridiculous (and, once again, strangely anime/manga/video game-esque) confrontation/fight scene towards the end, Tamura ‘remembers’ what the Koreans did to his marsupial ancestors in Australia during a genocidal campaign against koalas a century beforehand!
Once again, Minoru Kawasaki is not afraid to take on all-comers in his pastiche-parody adventures. Once again, he – like his anthropomorphic heroes – comes out on top.