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La La La at Rock Bottom (aka Misono Universe)
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by Jay Seaver

"A silly little song that nevertheless gets to you."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2015 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: The latest from the director of "Linda Linda Linda" is another charmer about someone finding friends and himself (this time) through music, although its appeal won't be limited to the too-small audiences who have seen the former. It's a different sort of movie, after all, more focused upon redemption than coming of age, but still a very appealing comedy.

"Pooch" (Subaru Shibutani) starts off close to a blank slate, bursting into a wedding with retrograde amnesia and grabbing the mike to sing a song before his concussion makes him lose consciousness again. The band's manager and mixer Kasumi Sato (Fumi Nikaido) winds up taking him in, although she'll later learn that this stray isn't necessarily entirely tame - his current state is the result of the folks who picked him up upon his release from jail knocking him out and tossing him out of the car.

Director Nobuhiro Yamashita and writer Tomoe Kanno have fun with the amnesia trope - none of the characters seem to believe that it's a thing that actually happens in real life, and are actually excited to see it. Little things like that make it seem like the filmmakers are well aware that their story is more than a bit unlikely, both in the broad strokes and the details, and they have a very firm handle on that - there's room for some very goofy material, but there's always a sense that this situation weighs heavily on Pooch. The movie is funny throughout, but doesn't trivialize anything.

Subaru Shibutani is kind of great as Pooch. He can sing, as he was apparently a member of a boy band at some point, but there's an unpracticed sound to it, like he's realistically unsure of his talents rather than secretly perfect and embarrassed as is often the case with diamond in the rough characters. He's got an amusing but sincere look of confusion on his face, and a neat sort of conflict as his memories return. Fumi Nikaido is fun opposite him, bringing out how Kasumi is really hard-working and determined as opposed to the youthful energy behind a large band composed of mostly older people. It's fun to watch them become genuinely fond of each other with any romance kind of at arm's length.

The music is catchy as well, and there's a fair amount of it without ever derailing the story. It's a bigger band than you usually see in a movie like this, because with the story really not taking place within the band, there's not much reason to worry about extraneous characters and subplots bogging the movie down (the ignominy of the guy replaced by Pooch threatens to become something, but always veers back into comic territory). The stuff tugging at Pooch from the other direction - the crime material - is less well-executed; both it and what we learn about his personal life before the jail time feels a bit weightless compared to the music that his conflict seems a bit odd.

The whole thing is good enough to end on one character saying "it's so dumb" and the other giving a goofy grin. The premise is silly, but the characters and filmmakers own it and make something that's funny and heartfelt.

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originally posted: 09/01/15 11:53:57
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2015 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Hawaii International Film Festival For more in the 2015 Hawaii International Film Festival series, click here.

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Directed by
  Nobuhiro Yamashita

Written by
  Tomoe Kanno

  Subaru Shibutani
  Sarina Suzuki
  Katsumi Kawahara

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