Its official: Takashi Miike is no longer the undisputed champion of modern offbeat Japanese cinema. Minoru Kawasaki has delivered the knock-out blow and has claimed his rightful throne. Breaking onto the scene with the hilarious Calamari Wrestler, featuring a Rocky-esque story with a wrestling squid, Kawasaki has now upped the ante and outdone himself with Executive Koala, a film that will have you wondering if it might be time to check yourself into a mental institution.
Mr. Tamura is a successful businessman working for the Rabource Pickling Company in Japan. He also happens to be a walking, talking giant koala bear. To improve the companies stock, he suggests that the company begin manufacturing Korean kimchi in addition to pickles, as the market for kimchi in Japan has begun to grow. The president of the company, a huge anthropomorphic rabbit, likes the idea and approves it. All seems to be going quite well in the life of Mr. Tamura.
That is until a couple of detectives show up at the pickling company, looking for the furry guy. They’ve come to inform him that his girlfriend, Yoko Abe, was found murdered earlier that day. Mr. Tamura is visibly upset, and more so when he finds out that he’s the detective’s prime suspect. There’s a good reason why he is though: his wife, Yukari, went missing two years earlier and has never been seen since. Mr. Tamura begins to second guess his sanity, as he’s overcome with nightmares that consist of him brutally stalking and slaying Yukari and other various people in his life. Could Mr. Tamura really be a murderer?
Executive Koala is easily the most absurd, surreal film I’ve seen in ages, possibly ever. What adds to the supremely bizarre nature of the film is that during the first 20 or so minutes, it’s an utterly normal experience. There just happens to be a six foot tall koala bear at the center of the proceedings, and not one character involved sees that as weird in any way (outside of a funny moment in a convenience store, where I’d like to add a giant frog works!) The majority of scenes are also played amazingly straight-faced and aren’t slap-sticky in any way, which will make the outlandish things going on onscreen come off as even more insane to the viewer. If there was ever a time when you started to wonder if one of your friends pulled a prank and slipped you some LSD, this is it.
One place where the film really excels is in the comedy department; you won’t just be laughing because the film is odd. Every fight scene in the film is pure hilarity, with stunt-dummies being beaten into oblivion and launched through the air. The dialogue at times is a huge source of laughter, particularly given the situations we’re watching. Mr. Tamura is pretty broken up about not being able to remember what happened to his wife Yukari, so he sees a therapist regularly. This in and of itself is enough to get you going, but the way the doctor consoles him is priceless, especially considering he’s delivering lines like, “There’s nothing wrong with you. You’re as normal as the next koala.”
If you haven’t begun already, you’ll certainly start to second-guess your state of mind once the second-half of the film kicks in, primarily during the Slasher film-inspired sequences. They’re completely hilarious, yet I often found myself laughing nervously, as I can’t deny the fact that these scenes come off pretty damn creepy. See, when Mr. Tamura goes off, his eyes glow red and he stalks with a perfectly cold look on his face. The ludicrous nature of it all will absolutely have you cracking-up, but when you see that koala bear face, with its eyes glowing a fierce red, gliding across the screen as someone has their back turned, I guarantee you’ll begin to question your sanity.
Kawasaki does a bang-up job in the direction department, using some of the most overused camera techniques ever to stress the spoof factor of the film. Seeing Mr. Tamura’s expression when he’s told his girlfriend has been murdered while the camera quickly zooms in on his face is cause for much amusement. He also seamlessly melds many different styles of cinema expertly throughout the film. Sure, the frame that Executive Koala is built upon definitely allows you to be more open to the film jumping from one genre to the next, but Kawasaki does it so in a logical manner, which each style complimenting the scene in which it’s used. The film opens rather normally, then spoofs police procedurals and mental anguish, the Slasher elements are used to great effect during dream sequences, the lampooning of martial arts films and anime are only brought forth during action portions, and there’s even some hilarious prison goofiness to be had and a musical number that may just send your fragile mind over the edge thrown in for good measure. Films like this are extremely difficult to pull off properly, as one could easily go overboard on the craziness, but Kawasaki balances it all quite nicely and it surprisingly all works.
If a film about a giant koala bear that works at a pickle company run by a giant rabbit, knows Karate, and may be a homicidal maniac sounds the least bit interesting to you, then see this immediately. It delivers on all the weirdness you could have hoped for and then some. It’s a wonderfully made film, and…oh, screw it! I’ve held it together for long enough…THIS STUFF IS BAT-SHIT CRAZY, MAN!!!!
Thank god for companies like Synapse Films that are willing to release stuff like Executive Koala for all of us to see. The film is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, and it looks exceptional. It looks extremely clean, with vivid colors and nice blacks. The Japanese language track comes in Dolby Digital 2.0, and is just as good as the picture itself. English subtitles are flawless.
The sole extra, outside of a theatrical trailer and a TV spot, is a nearly 40-minute featurette that contains cast and crew interviews and behind the scenes footage. We get to see how all of the animal costumes were made, which is quite interesting, as well as the choreographing of the more action-oriented sequences. The feature ends with footage from the films premiere in both Hawaii as well as Japan. If you’re at all interested in the film, this is a must buy.
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