University of Laughs (2004)

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Rating: 7/10

Director: Hoshi Mamoru

This film is impressive for how much meaning it manages to capture in it’s small scope – two main sets and two main actors, with hardly any special effects. Set within the narrative frame of a censure review process, the drama unfolds from Day 1 to Day 7 as a playwright’s (Goro Inagaki) script is rejected time and time again by the censor (Koji Yakusho). As the censor demands more changes each day, he finds himself caught up in the creative process.

Herein lies the film’s starkest satirical point. On an individual level, a censor aids, rather than stifles the creative process. While he begins as an inhuman personification of the institution and/or the state, he is humanized by his developing friendship with the playwright. This ‘humanization’ is depicted through scenes of his daily activities (eating at a sushi bar, traveling, outside his uniform etc) towards the end of the film. On a structural level, the narrative frame – the censure review process – is contrasted against the end result of that process: the playwright produces a brilliant comedy, and we too, enjoy a brilliant comedy.

The film culminates in the playwright confessing his true intentions, which meets the censor’s own philosophy head on. What was previously ignored or forgotten because of their growing friendship can no longer be, and the censor is forced to issue an ultimatum. The buildup in poignancy was not overdone, though it could have been more subtle. Nevertheless, this development threatens to derail the entire buildup in plot, for it rendered all other changes to the playwright’s script nugatory. But the risk paid off, and the result is, instead of being left with an unsatisfying cop-out of a friendly agreement to disagree, we get to watch a true transformation of character.

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About Mel

I dreamt I was a whale. https://melvynfoo.wordpress.com/about-mel/