"A lonely and embarrassing situation brings out funny and weird."
SCREENED AT THE 2017 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: There's likely a bit of truth in the way "Almost Coming, Almost Dying" slows down after a bizarre, titillating beginning: Recovery is not always hard in a way that obviously challenges someone, but it's often kind of boring and/or embarrassing, with a lot of waiting to see if something has healed properly or not being sure how to ask if this illness has affected something intimate. And so, after a fair amount of funny nudity and a themed "massage parlor" to open things up and get Manabu (Misoo No) into the hospital, the rest of the movie seldom strays far from his bed as he spends a month convalescing from a particularly ill-timed brain hemorrhage.It could be deadly-dull stuff (although I suspect that some Americans may find six weeks of care without worries about paying for it an exciting fantasy rather than a disorienting situation), but director Toshimasa Kobayashi and screenwriter Hiroyuki Abe are good at finding the little things that are weird or unnerving or thought-provoking and giving them just enough room to play out and lead into the next one without ever seeming to focus too much on any one thing. It preserves the singular point-of-view of the real-life Manabu Nakagawa's autobiographical manga without indulging in too much navel-gazing; though very much his specific story, the filmmakers maybe spot some irony in how the hospital stay twists Manabu's initial situation as a 29-year-old man living with his parents and seldom leaving his room: Having others attend to his needs while remaining isolated suddenly becomes a far less enjoyable experience even before the question of how he got there rears its head.
That sense of isolation and disconnection isn't necessarily something that necessarily comes to the forefront for most in the audience; the filmmakers camouflage it with more obvious surrealism and what is generally very good examples of the comedy of embarrassment. Some of it is standard "pretty nurse for whom you have no mystery" stuff, although there's also a number of scenes where on family member tries to run interference to keep others from figuring out just where Manabu had his aneurysm that are perfectly executed comedy. They're also mindful of how they use the "Kumoman" mascot - a furry that personifies both Manabu's RCVS and his fear of another seizure - not letting these flights of fancy overtake the humans at the center or letting that fear get shunted too far aside by its oddity.
An adaptation with a few more resources available might have gone with a CGI creature rather than something akin to a mute minor-league sports mascot that has seen better days, but there's a certain hardscrabble appeal to the obvious indie nature of the production - the improvised sets and somewhat harsher lighting make the massage parlor seedier and the hospital more institutional, while the cast of unknowns has a nicely unpolished feel to it, everyone kind of awkward and halting, not quite sure what to say next. Misoo No exemplifies this best, finding many different forms of embarrassment and anxiety, making the moments when he's able to gain and display a little confidence feel like important victories.It makes for a small movie, the sort of individual-scale autobiographical indie that can be hard to find amid things with greater apparent import that aren't nearly so eccentric. Fortunately, it works in the same way that the type of comics it is based on do, injecting a little visual metaphor into something serious and often drably functional to highlight its unique perspective.