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Tokyo Onlypic 2008
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by Jay Seaver

"The Olympics needs to be taken down a notch, and this is the team to do it."
5 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2009 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Anthology films like "Tokyo OnlyPic" should probably not be graded on how good they are as a whole, but more on how good the best segments are, and how man segments should be in that group. On those grounds, "Tokyo OnlyPic 2008" is an unqualified hit - the opening ceremony alone had my crying from laughter, and there are a number of other bits nearly as funny. Some don't work quite as well, but you'll get your money's worth from the good ones.

The premise is simple - the Tokyo OnlyPic ("Only Pictures") games are going on at roughly the same time as the Beijing Olympics, although these games contain some rather more esoteric events - like the "Hellmaraton", "Samurai Call", and "1000-character SMS". Many of them are presented as animation of various styles, some as live action, others as a mix, and in between, studio hosts Junichi Mogi and Shoko Nakagawa (genuine D-list celebrities!) introduce and analyze events from the studio.

Even the live-action segments are cartoons at heart, filled with painful slapstick, national stereotypes, and outlandish, silly events. Which isn't a bad thing - these are often excellent little cartoons. Main director Riichiro Mashima's opening ceremonies look like a video game into which some real people have occasionally been inserted for close-ups, but contains more laughs per second than anything else I've seen in a long, long time. It starts with the introduction of pigeons as the mascots for the games, continues with a final relay of the OnlyPic flame that will make the participants glad that there's a pool in the middle of the arena, and continues with a magnificent giant Buddha statue that for some reason shoots death rays from its eyes, and an introduction of the various teams that plays on their national reputations along with good slapstick. It's a mini-masterpiece of steady but escalating chaos, pushing each gag just a little further until it's a complete and utter madhouse.

It's not just the slapstick that makes it funny, though. Mashima is laying a vicious smackdown on the Olympics' self-importance (and that which occasionally infests sports in general). The announcers talk over the ceremony, blandly telling us about the things which we can clearly see. In the studio segments, Mogi and Nakagawa blandly say nothing while rooting for the Japanese participants in any event, unless Ms. Nakagawa is vapidly swooning over some other participant. It's a dead-on parody of awful sportscasting.

Mashima has played in this pond before - his Ski Jumping Pairs: Road to Torino is based on similar material - but invites a number of other folks in to participate. None of the segments are bad, so I'll just highlight my favorites: "Hellmarathon" by Takanobu Mizuno has demons and spirits making a run across the underworld for a gateway to our world, where they will possess mediums to race the last 10 meters (a daunting distance, as mediums tend to be old ladies). "The Luv Race" by Bill Plympton has three lotharios trying to woo a busty Italian beauty before they reach the finish line in Bill's trademark style. "Ironball Throwing" by Hiroyuki Nakano is a live-action game of basketball played with 10kg spheres, and the announcers snorting in disgust at how the game is being played. "1000-character SMS" by Ignacio Ferreras seems an unlikely match for animation, but has some huge belly-laughs. And then there's "Men's Humanism" by Taro Sowado Hiroshi, in which stop-motion dolls stand in formation like bowling pins and throw things each other. It hilariously repeats something awfully close to the same joke twenty times in a row without failing to get a pretty huge laugh each time.

(Notes: Apologies if any of the spelling or accreditation is off; the picture, unfortunately, has no English-language website. Also, it appears that roughly five of the segments produced did not appear in the collection that played Fantasia.)

Some of the segments aren't quite so funny, but those five are worth the price of admission alone. It's a rude, crude collection of bits that aren't exactly sophisticated comedy, but they made the audience laugh hard, and what else do you want?

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=19334&reviewer=371
originally posted: 07/16/09 05:49:44
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 Fantasia Festival For more in the 2009 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: Fantastic Fest 2009 For more in the Fantastic Fest 2009 series, click here.

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