Manzai Gang: A Four-Laughs Review 漫才キャング
Joanne G. Yoshida
Kamiji Yusuke has universal charisma. Don't be put off by his rough and seemingly intimidating dreadlocks look for his recent movie, Manzai Gang. He is as charming as ever, and shows that he can fight as well as laugh - but in the end, everyone knows that it's the laugh that wins.
The first scene sets up the 'punch' line---that comedy (in this case the kind of stand up comedy known as 漫才, manzai* featuring a duo team of comedians ) and fighting (ケンカ, ken-ka) are two sides of the same coin. The scene flips from a street gang fight to a comedy act, juxtaposing slaps and claps, and setting the stage for a showdown between the two. The timing of the jokes and the timing of the kicks keep the audience on the edge of our seats, and sets a fast-moving and well-timed sequence of cuts. No pun intended for the scars that both the comedians and the ruffians wind up with.
The basic story-line is:
A comedy pair breaks up, and by a comedy of errors one of the comedians in the comedy pair winds up sharing a detention cell with a member of a street fighting gang who had some trouble on the same night. Kamiji Yusuke plays the street gang member, Onizuka Ryuhei. Ryuta Sato plays the dejected comedian, Kurosawa Tobio.
In the cell they get into bantering dialogue which becomes like a comedy routine itself when Tobio needs to relieve himself and finds the 'toilet' is uncomfortably close to his cell mate, Ryuhei, who he has not yet officially met. Here Tobio goes into a play by play monologue of how to handle the smelly situation.
Ryuhei wakes up to this monologue and joins in with well-timed lines. Once Tobio is finished on the toilet they continue their greetings in what sounds like a stand-up routine (though in this case they are seated on the cell floor). Someone locked up in an adjacent cell begins to crack up with laugher and the comedian Tobio realizes he has found a new partner to play the straight-man for his manzai act. Ryuhei agrees to the partnership and from there his journey from the fighting biz to the comedy biz begins, with a few fights to go in between.
The movie reveals Yusuke in fine form as a fighter and shows his amazing versatility as a 'talent' ("talent-o", タレント). He is well known in Japan as a light-hearted and comic entertainer, singer, and actor who comes from a baseball background. His rhythmic top of the chart J-pop songs and accompanying akarui (bright and positive) personality are well known in Japan since he came to fame on the quiz show Hexagon.
In the movie, he reveals still another talent--his athletic grace is directed into energetic fighting scenes. The fights are choreographed with a mixture of Abarenbo Shogun samurai-like drama and speed combined with back street fighting that I could almost envision to the tunes of West Side Story.
Although Yusuke's character is done up in tank tops and tattoos, dreadlocks and (light) booze, an "angel" rises out of the hell's angel portrayal. His angelic nature reveals itself especially in the climax where he crouches down on the earth and refuses to fight, bowing down to apologize while he receives blow after blow by the members of his former gang who refuse to let him out of the fight.
The movie features a cast of comedians and popular actors, and is directed by Shinagawa Hiroshi, a popular real-life manzai comedian from the comedy duo Shinagawa Shoji. His comedy partner makes a cameo appearance, as well as other actual comedians you may or may not recognize in some of the stand-up comedy scenes. Actress Satomi Ishihara's beauty and smile radiate in her role as the only woman in the cast as the girlfriend of the not so popular comedian Tobio.
I admit it's taken me twelve years living in Japan to catch even a few jokes in full-speed Japanese. If you don't know any Japanese at all, but like action and are open to the challenge of enjoying a movie on the visual level, try it and watch for the timing of the jokes, the bantering style of the comedy teams, and laughs from the audience. It's a glimpse into Japanese style comedy and if you are prepared to let go of needing to know the words, its a great introduction to that world. Watch how the whole movie is like a big comedy routine (though in contrast it does contains some violence in the fighting scenes which add the element of action as part of the story line).
Despite the fighting, my twelve-year old daughter calls it the funniest movie she has seen so far in her life.
In the movie and in real life, there are people who choose to fight and there are people who choose to laugh. Manzai Gang makes it easy to see that the choice is ours.
By casting Kamiji Yusuke as the harbinger of this message, there is an extra gift. Besides being charmed by his smile and natural sense of comedy in this role, the audience gets to enjoy a Yusuke song, 俺なりのラブソング (Ore-nari-no Love Song) that plays through one of the scenes in the second half.
There are three kinds of comedy in Japan:
Conto - Two or more comedians, in routines which comprise short skits, often using props or sets
Manzai 漫才 - Pair of comedians, doesn't generally use props but simply one microphone and the pair perform stand-up routines
Pin Gei-nin - One solo comedian performs a routine
Kamiji Yusuke Related
Joanne G. Yoshida