An absurdist comedy for the ages, Masashi Yamamoto’s Wonderful Paradise escalates almost to the point of being overstuffed, yet, by keeping it’s charm is remains a wildly entertain blast of a film that audiences should enjoy, and why not? We need more films that take absurd risks like this.
The debt-ridden Sasayas are moving out of their big house in the suburbs of Tokyo. Misinterpreting her father Shuji’s (Seiko Ito) suggestion to “make fun memories” instead of focusing on the material move and frustrated by her meek brother Yuta (Soran Tamoto), daughter Akane (Mayu Ozawa), posts an open invitation on Twitter: “Let’s have a party!” Soon, a man comes to pray at the altar of the kitsch Greek statue in their driveway and thus begins the bacchanal! Guest after eccentric guest pours into the house as the party becomes an out unforgettable experience.
Wonderful Paradise is a film that you will either love as soon as the absurdity begins or be so bewildered that you have to give up on it. There will be no real chance to sit on the fence regarding this one. If you are not wanting to go in with both feet first by the time we get to the funeral dance number (yes, you read that right), then I am unsure what to tell you. Everyone here is having a blast, and at a time of great difficulty for many at the moment, that is a film that we never knew we needed.
The opening half of Wonderful Paradise works terrifically well. If Yamamoto had kept going in that direction, it would have been a fine film on its own. But, those who know of his work will know that he wasn’t going to settle for what he had. From 40 minutes on, he piles in characters and situations to bring the laughs, with this odd group of outsiders having the time of their lives.
The second half is where the film takes a dramatic turn into the weird, wonderful and colourful thanks to Shintaro Teramoto’s lens. The wackiness is dialled up in a way not seen nearly often enough, and all reason is thrown straight out the window. If you decided to get annoyed as to why the vendors decided to come down and sell their food and beer to this party, or how a coffee shop got set up within hours inside the house with no one noticing, then this film may not be for you. Without a doubt Wonderful Paradise wants you to relax and soak in it’s story as it takes you on a gloriously weird ride.
For all of the beautiful absurdity, though, there is perhaps too many situations and bits being thrown at us considering the run time, with over 25 characters having their own side plots, it never feels like it is going to end in introducing characters who have an impact on the plot. It feels as if he and co-writer Suzuyuki Kaneko had many ideas but kept adlibbing more and more as to what would happen next in the story or what would be wild to insert next.
For the most part, it works, yet exhaustion does begin to set in as the weird bean from the coffee shop set up in the kitchen evolves to face off against another object. Due to the sheer enjoyment of it all, though, you forgive it. As an audience member, you wonder how on Earth they are going to wrap this up in any fashion by dawn due to the sheer amount of characters that need their stories tied up.
Somehow Yamamoto does this succinctly enough as our participants slowly ease away through the gates of the Sasayas in a fog of what they just experienced. Much like those attendee’s, you may very well do the same once the credits roll. For all of the madness in the home, however, a rather linear story is told throughout the multiple layers within the film.
Patriarch Shuji is careless with what was once a plentiful amount of money. Even as he realises that he has pushed his family away due to his actions, the temptation of getting that one big win to get them back on their feet is too much for him to turn down. When he is genuinely at rock bottom, he has to admit where he is now at. Equally, his son Yuta has become overburdened with the pressure from his father to be successful. As a result, he has retreated so far into himself that it takes the party to open himself up finally.
Daughter Akane is angry at what has happened to her family because of her father, at her mother for leaving them. She is in desperate need of a connection and to be in control of something, so when she has the opportunity to relax and be more forthright, she takes advantage of it. It would be easy to go on for every character. Still, it is better that you enjoy the experience given by Yamamoto. By having such a wide-ranging ensemble who all bring something very different to Wonderful Paradise, Yamamoto can tell multiple little stories with each. To that point, the film works unexpectedly well. There are many subtexts tossed in that Japanese audiences would pick up a lot quicker than myself.
In the end, the film is about escaping your troubles yet finding ways to accept where you are at in your life, with the hope of the future. It is odd to say something like this in a film with ghosts talking about finding nirvana and where a small boy turns into a stick, but here we are! Wonderful Paradise is over-packed and, at times, unwieldy. Still, goodness is it entertaining, and in the end, that is what matters.
For more of our coverage of Fantasia Fest 2021, have a gander below! We will update each day!
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