Japan. Directed by Minoru Kawasaki, 2005.
Tamura is a low-level executive with the Rabource Pickling Company of Japan. Although not overly ambitious, his project to merge his employer with one of its South Korean counterparts has gained him notice. But things start to go awry when his girlfriend Yoko is viciously murdered–and he turns out to be the prime suspect. Is Tamura guilty of murder, or is he just a patsy? If the latter, who framed him and why? Does Yoko’s murder have anything to do with the disappearance of Tamura’s unfaithful ex-wife Yukari, three years previous?
Also, Tamura is a human-sized, anthropomorphic koala.
If ever there was any film that could be described as immune to criticism, Minoru Kawasaki’s Executive Koala is that film. (One hopes, Kawasaki’s other efforts–with such titles as The Calamari Wrestler, The Rug Cop, Pussy Soup, and The World Sinks Except Japan–are equally as immune.) Unsatisfying narrative resolution? Inconsistent characterization? Plot inconsistencies? The occasional deus ex machina? Shamless overacting? Special effects so bad they would have embarrassed Doctor Who’s mid-’80s production team? Who cares! It’s called Executive Koala! It’s about an executive koala! His boss is a rabbit, and the clerk at the local convenience store is a frog! It’s not meant to be taken seriously!
Kawasaki deserves a lot of credit for seeing the absurdity of his film’s premise through. As the guy who insists on prizing storytelling in horror cinema, I can’t deny that I was a bit disappointed by Kawasaki’s choice to pursue an overtly parodic path as opposed to a more satirical one. (For the first 20 or 30 minutes–until the flying squirrel shows up, and the martial arts demonstration–it seems like it could go either way.) But he more than makes up for it with crackerjack direction, effective pacing (no scene–with the exception of the final confrontation–seems to go on too long and no joke is beaten to death), and some brilliantly weird set-pieces, including a musical trial sequence that would put Pink Floyd The Wall to shame. And as (almost certainly intentionally) bad as the effects occasionally are, there’s something strangely endearing about them; Tamura’s reaction to the news of Yoko’s murder is priceless.
That being said, Executive Koala wasn’t as consistently funny as I hoped it was going to be. Which isn’t to say that it isn’t quite funny in parts. But there was also quite a bit that I expected was meant to be funny, but that I couldn’t quite get into. (And once again, I’m stuck wondering whether it’s Kawasaki’s fault, or if there’s something in the Japanese sense of humor that’s getting lost in translation for me.) The tendency to radically shift tone, mood and even genre on a dime was also a bit of a problem to me; at times I found myself suffering from a bit of mental whiplash. (Particularly toward the end.) And I’m not overly fond of the ending, which I thought was a huge cop-out.
Overall, Executive Koala is a solid slice of Japanese cinéma-du-WTF: imaginative, crazy, a bit transgressive and entertaining as all-get-out. Its style is an acquired taste, and so therefore it’s not for everyone, but if you’ve got a hankering for this sort of thing, it’s guaranteed to hit the spot.