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Most Beautiful Night in the World, The
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by Jay Seaver

"It is, to be fair, one heck of a night."
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2008 FANTASIA FESTIVAL: It's probably not wise to expect a movie to be both provocative and wise. The idea that Daisuke Tengan proposes in "The Most Beautiful Night in the World" is crude and simplistic, and he drives it home with some anything-but-subtle imagery; my initial reaction was that it was horrible and would be a disaster. That doesn't make the basic idea unworthy of consideration, though.

In the present day, junior-high student Midori (Haruki Ichikawa) is preparing, along with much of her village, for a trip to Tokyo to be honored by the Prime Minister for the village having the highest birth rate in Japan. She is writing a letter to a famous reporter on the surprising story of how this came to pass. Fifteen years earlier, a big-city reporter by the name of Kazaya Mizimu (Tomorowo Taguchi) arrived in town, exiled from Tokyo for a scandal. The local editor (Shiro Sano) despairs of anything interesting ever happening there, though Mizimu figures something must eventually happen with the colorful cast of characters he finds: There's Shineko (Michie Ito), a child-like woman who people treat like a moron; she's secretly a genius but allergic to stupidity; she assists her father Gonzo (Akira Emoto), a fisherman and would-be musician. There's Nihei (Ryo Ishibashi), a former Marxist terrorist whose interests now run to archeology, particular the ancient Jomon people, famed for their unusually strong sex drive. Local Shinto priest Pontus (Takeshi Wakamatsu) operates an island brothel; the local bar is owned by Teruko (Sarara Tsukifune), who lived in the city for a time and is reputed to have psychic powers and/or belong to a cult.

It's an interesting group, and Kaname Village is a nice place to have them bouncing off each other. It's one of those small movie towns with bicycles and bridges, where even the residents who only briefly interact with the main characters have some sort of memorable quirk. It takes on a bit of the appearance of a fairy tale, something that can be partially attributed to the young narrator. Everyone and everything is very distinctive - Mizimu is very earnest, Teruko is sexy but sophisticated relative to the locals; her bar is dumpy, noirish, and spooky depending on the needs of the moment.

The cast does a nice job of keeping things relatively simple without making everyone seem one-note. Ryo Ishibashi is enjoyably energetic as Nihei, for instance. Michie Ito has a nice take on the eccentric super-genius, playing Shineko as socially kind of a child, since it's difficult to integrate into society when the world's rampant stupidity causes allergy attacks. Tomorow Taguchi is a pleasant enough everyman learning about the village's oddness along with us, although I'm not sure about his performance toward the end - there are bits that are more mime than conventional acting, and I'm honestly not sure whether it's bad mime or a good job of being very strange. Sarara Tsukifune, on the other hand, gets better as the movie goes along - she's okay as the generically enigmatic barkeeper in the beginning, but sells the audience on Teruko's story when it comes time for her story to get specific and strange.

It's a good thing the characters are fun, because it takes Tengan some time to tie them together into something that resembles a story. Maybe a little too long, to be honest; while most of the cast qualifies as "kind of interesting", but they're all fairly thin, and we kind of float between them without really being caught up in any of their stories. That's not wholly a bad thing, since it keeps Beautiful Night from ever feeling like one of those ensemble films where the director and audience disagree on which thread is worth following, but it also means that the audience is getting a long stretch of mild enjoyment rather than bursts of excitement.

That may actually be the effect Tengan is trying to create: Get the audience into a thoroughly ordinary frame of mind despite the off-kilter aspects of Kaname, and then spring the sex on them. There's going to have to be sex, of course - the town is being honored for its birth-rate, after all. Tengan still manages to raise some eyebrows even with that: First we get a goofy-but-sad bit of backstory, and then... Well, saying that the movie has a big climax is an obvious and thoroughly true double entendre. It's tough not to be impressed by the audacity and sheer scale of the moment. For all that the build to it may be roundabout and the bits that come after a little off, it's tough to argue that Tengan didn't achieve what he set out for: The moment is sexy, shocking, and funny; it communicates the sense of innocence that its meant to, while also reminding the audience that innocence is an absolute concept.

Does it work? Sort of. The idea of getting back to the primal has a visceral appeal. If Tengan's going to advocate that, or even present it as a semi-reasonable option, it might behoove the filmmaker to present a more compelling need. As provocative as the finale is, it does not necessarily come on the heels of a situation that demonstrates a need for something radical.

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originally posted: 08/14/08 14:05:28
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2008 Fantasia Film Festiva For more in the 2008 Fantasia Film Festival series, click here.

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Directed by
  Daisuke Tengan

Written by
  Daisuke Tengan

  Tomorrow Taguchi
  Sarara Tsukifune
  Ryo Ishibashi
  Shiro Sano

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