July 14th, 2009 12:27:00
Satoshi Miki, the director of last year's sleeper hit ADRIFT IN TOKYO, returns to Fantasia screens with his latest oddball comedy INSTANT SWAMP, which has been likened to Jeunet's AMELIE for its narrative whimsy and adorable daydreaming protagonist Haname (Aso Kumiko of CAFE ISOBE, 2008). Haname is a magazine editor who finds herself dumped and unemployed in short order, and spends her solitary existence drinking a weird sludgy concoction and visiting her hospitalized mother (who nearly drowned trying to catch a mythical water sprite, called a 'kappa') - until she finds a mysterious letter identifying her long-forgotten father, who abandoned the family on Haname's 8th birthday.
Haname tracks her father down at a junk shop he runs; he now goes by the name of 'Light Bulb', and has a hairdo to match the name. Haname refuses to believe that this strange packrat could be her father, but a punk rocker named Gus who is a regular loiterer at the store (Gus also has huge sprayed-stiff hair, reinforcing Miki's now-signature obsession with wacky hair-dos) convinces her that their compulsive personalities aren't that different, and she decides to stick around and help run the shop. Still, Miki is no conventional storyteller, so rest assured, the film isn't going to go where you expect it to!
Miki's comic style is significantly drier than that of his countrymen (he has cited Peter Sellers as a major influence), and his background is in television comedy: the film's title not only refers to Haname's sludgy morning beverage, but it's also a reference that goes much further back - to a recurring sketch on a TV show Miki was involved with in 2001 called The Dumbest Show in the Northern Hemisphere. The sketch was called 'Nikko Telephone Shopping', a deadpan take-off of a home-shopping channel that would sell useless items - one of which was a styrofoam cup of dehydrated sludge.
But in an interview with Mark Schilling in the Japan Times, Miki also recounted a memory from his childhood that contributed to the sludge's pervasive presence in this latest film; "When I was a kid in Yokohama, during the Vietnam War," he recalled, "the U.S. military had a base near where I lived - there were no houses around it, just woods and a swamp. Then the base was closed and bulldozers came to fill in the swamp. I imagined carrying the swamp away somewhere and filling it up with water again. There were all kinds of things in that swamp - big carp and so on. I was fascinated by it. So I didn't like it when they came to (fill it in). I thought it was dangerous - that something scary would come out of it."
See HERE for a viral advertising campaign for INSTANT SWAMP, featuring Miki himself, Ryo Kase, Kumiko Aso, and the entire crew searching for a kappa. PLUS! a clip of the original 'Nikko Television Shopping' skit.
INSTANT SWAMP plays Tuesday July 14th at 7:15pm in the Hall Theatre and again on Friday July 17th at 3:00pm in the Salle JA de Seve. Full film description, images, trailer etc on the film page HERE.
- Kier-La Janisse