“A Farewell to Jinu” – 2015 Japan Cuts Film Review

Japanese comedies are hit or miss for me. Often relying on an everything-including-the-kitchen-sink level of wackiness and camera mugging that can be off-putting and wholly unfunny, I am wary of any new Japanese comedy that gets an international release. Yet, a hodgepodge of elements blended just right can make something close to a masterpiece; a perfect example of this being the films of Yoshihiro Nakamura, Shuichi Okita, Yuya Ishii and now, actor-turned-director Suzuki Matsuo’s new film “A Farewell to Jinu” (ジヌよさらば ~かむろば村へ~, 2015).

What connects these very disparate directors’ styles is their level of sincerity and, more importantly, comedy usually springing from the universe they came from, no matter how ludicrous the premise.  Case in point, in “A Farewell to Jinu” a young man, Takeharu Takami (Ryuhei Matsuda), runs off to live in a small farming village after developing a money allergy. Although money allergies actually are a real thing, with symptoms often manifesting themselves as annoying rashes, in Suzuki’s picture whenever Takeharu gets within a few feet of money or even a bank, he experiences a spastic reaction that could best be described as a drunkard convulsing and fainting.

A quiet and oftentimes insufferable milquetoast, Takeharu arrives in the village completely ignorant of what life as a farmer and hermit entails.  (Matsuda’s deadpan performance, dare I say evoking Buster Keaton, makes us sympathize with the lout instead of hating him.)  Aiding him on his transcendental quest, Sadao Abe plays Yosaburo Amano, the village’s mayor and proclaimed selfless man, whose cantankerous attitude belies a broken heart. Yosaburo, like several people in the village, has a secret past that Suzuki doles out piecemeal till the film’s climactic ending.

Based on a manga written by Mikio Igarashi, “A Farewell to Jinu” is not just a dialogue between two men of opposing temperaments. Suzuki stuffs the picture with a cadre of funny and peculiar townsfolk. Unlike a lot of current Hollywood comedies that traffic in catch phrases and random non-sequiturs, every joke emerges from the situations in the picture. Point-in-fact, several jabs at the popular director Koki Mitani are initiated after posters advertising his live shows are used to hide some offending graffiti spray-painted on the side of Yosaburo’s bus. The character’s constant remarks about the price of a ticket and the poster itself are funny counterpoints to one of the film’s most violent moments.

Although the leisurely paced narrative includes a subplot about someone trying to oust Yosaburo from his position as mayor and the appearance of a limping yakuza character in the village, the film is bereft of conflict. Even during moments of violence I never for a minute thought that the film would end tragically. The destination may be unclear, but like the fair share of Japanese pictures I have seen, I am more comfortable with just letting the film take me wherever it wants to.

Beyond the movie’s pace, the message in “A Farewell to Jinu” to “Buy nothing. Sell Nothing. Just go on living.” is a noble philosophy that without question is influenced by real world events, specifically the economic recession and tragedies that have befallen Japan in recent years. Yet even with such a politicized message at its core Suzuki never gets preachy. The elements of genre are always respected, and as such character development and comedy are never put on the sidelines or manipulated to serve an agenda. All it takes for Japanese comedies to work are interesting characters, the courage to follow the story’s own pace, and funny jokes – a simple recipe that Suzuki has gotten right in “A Farewell to Jinu.”

“A Farewell to Jinu” made its North American premiere at JAPAN CUTS 2015.