15th Japanese Film Festival Opening Night: A Ghost Of A Chance

 

The Japanese Film Festival is always my favourite time of year. Any excuse to sit in a darkened room for up to eleven days is good enough for me, and Japan consistently releases some of my favourite style of films. Each year the JFF presents a selection – not always good, but normally always enough to raise a reaction from me.

 

This year the organisers went ahead with a plot to open the festival with a comedy, in stark contrast to the family melodrama of last year’s About Her Brother. While perhaps slightly too long (and not without a slight glitch), A Ghost Of A Chance was a fresh start for 2011, the festival’s fifteenth year.

A man is arrested, accused of murdering his wife. He claims innocence, his alibi being that a ghost was sitting on him on the night in question. Unconfident defence lawyer Emi decides to investigate the inn that the defendant stayed at on the night in question, only to find that it is haunted and that the ghost, Rokubei, is more than willing to testify.

But can a phantom’s testimony hold up in a court of law? I’m going to allow it.

 

Mitani Koki’s latest film came out in Japan mere weeks ago and has already dominated the country’s box office. This is understandable, as the comedy is affable and the actors are comforting, but the film has more minutes than it does ideas yet still manages to leave several aspects half-baked and underdeveloped.

 

Emi and Rokubei are the film’s anchors, and they interact well; Rokubei is no mere annoying spectre, but a spirit who has sought redemption for 421 years without realising that he doesn’t have to involve himself in the petty ceremonies expected of ghosts, while Emi is your more traditional well-intentioned lawyer. The two of them together produce one of the funniest bonding montages committed to film because it’s so earnest and ridiculous at once.

Emi’s relationships to other characters are slightly more sketchy; the man that she lives with is only revealed to be her boyfriend after they’re seen in bed together watching Rokubei riding a rocking horse (yeah, I didn’t get this bit at all), and the health of her boss is a total mystery.

The actual murderers are known from the very beginning of the film but they’re not properly integrated into the narrative until the eleventh hour, by which time much of the steam has been expended. There are definite pacing issues with this film and it feels like it’s both twenty minutes too long and unevenly written.

 

Still, despite some rough patches, it’s a film replete with delights, from a taxi driver with an unfortunate haircut to “Objection! That tap dance has no bearing on the case at hand!”. Tighter writing would have come in handy, and the scant sentimental moments are strangely devoid of enough emotional manipulation to sell them (after all, this is a Japanese movie), but A Ghost Of A Chance raises more than enough laughs to justify the time.

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