Raindance Film Festival – Fuku-chan of Fukufuku Flats – Review ★★★★

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The boy-meets-girl/girl-meets-boy narrative structure is as old as storytelling itself. Such is its familiarity that it is very difficult to make it fresh, which is something filmmaker Yosuke Fujita has succeeded with comedy-drama Fuku-chan of Fukufuku Flats.

The story of a 32-year-old construction-worker and painter Fuku-chan (Miyuki Ohshima) who is pressured to find a girlfriend by his jokester colleague and friend Shimacchi (Yoshiyoshi Arakawa). Unfortunately, his fear of women has prevented any such intimacy. It isn’t until by chance when Chiho (Asami Mizukawa) stops by his apartment to apologise for her bullying schooldays, who was his first-love. Chiho herself is an aspiring photographer who wishes to take pictures of Fuku-chan, and he begins to fall for her.

It would be easy to focus on the casting choice of Ohshima portraying a male character but such attentiveness is strangely not necessary. Filmmaker Fujita saw knew of her on-screen persona on Japanese television and felt it merged seamlessly with his script. Audiences at this festival were told in advance of the performers’ gender and this became the prominent subject matter in the Q&A that followed, but two months prior at a German film festival, they weren’t told and this revelation made minimal difference on their viewing experience. In-short, it’s worth noting the gender query doesn’t draw upon itself within the film.

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The film’s biggest asset is its narrative experimentation with balancing comedy and drama. The abrupt tonal shifts may be jarring to certain audience members for some set-pieces veer towards the surreal, most notably the curry scene where the waiter refuses to give his customers water. This Pythonesque quality works as part of the narrative as well as a skit entirely on its own. The tonal shifts at times don’t work for it’s too abrupt from light humour to darkly tragic moments, but it is always saved by the charming romance between Chiho and Fuku-chan.

The romance is kind and unpretentious as its focus is more on their own dealings with both past and current events. There is no forced conflict and no monologues of outpouring apologies, but entirely on the two interacting and learning from each other whilst overcoming their own personal issues. The film’s show-don’t-tell approach allows the audience to appreciate the well-rounded characters that it produces and an appreciation of daft dry comedic set pieces.

At the film’s core it’s an engaging and heartfelt love story of overcoming traumatic experiences, which is elevated, not cheapened, from drama by absurd comedy set pieces. It shamelessly pulls at the audiences’ heartstrings and is self-aware, not meta, of its absurd nature.

Matthew Lee is an undergraduate student in the field of Film Studies at King's College London and a freelance film critic with keen interests in World Cinema, Cult Cinema and Silent Cinema.