Mr. Tamura is one of the hardest-working people in his company. He’s been burning midnight oil for months on end to get a crucial joint venture lined up with a Korean outfit. He’s uneasy about the fact that his wife disappeared two years ago, but takes comfort in the fact that his current girlfriend loves him dearly. Then one morning two detectives show up at his job and coldly inform him that his girl was murdered last night, and all the signs point to him being the culprit.
Tamura’s appalled, but staunchly declares his innocence. It doesn’t help that he himself has been carrying around a great deal of doubt about his own sanity, and has been visiting a psychiatrist to help deal with the tangle of emotions inside of him. The police tail him, put pressure on him — and soon Tamura’s sanity and life unravel like someone pushed the Biggest Ball of Twine In The World (from Cawker City, Kansas) down a steep hill.
And Mr. Tamura is a koala.
Minoru Kawasaki’s Executive Koala doesn’t just defy classification, it actively stages insurrection against it. It’s like Eugene Ionesco cannibalized three unfilmed Hitchcock productions and then called in Shel Silverstein for a rewrite. It’s not just a spoof of thrillers, or social satires, or any one thing. It’s a spoof of all genre-hopping mind-bending cinema, a way to slip the whole concept a cheerful Mickey Finn. (Or is that Miike? Sorry, I had to say it.) It’s consequently not as successful as a movie, but as a way to completely screw with the heads of an audience — all the while smiling joyously — it’s unparalleled. Only Japan seems capable of producing movies this simultaneously unhinged and merry.
The first half to third of Koala seem predictable enough. Tamura works hard and gets great results, but is still seen as something of an odd man out at his company. It’s all setup for what seems like a fairly predictable allegory about outsiders in Japan — swap “Korean” or “Westerner” for “koala” and you have an easy formula. The algebra’s made all the more obvious when Tamura’s Korean business contact comes into the story — but in what becomes the movie’s signature plot-fakeout style, he then teaches Tamura martial arts in a scene that’s a mini-spoof of kung fu flicks. And it’s not a throwaway, either; it actually gets used later on — even if in a way that makes absolutely no objective sense. Ditto the fact that Tamura is a koala, and his boss a rabbit (and the convenience-store counterman a frog).
In a strange world of executive koalas and convenience-store frogs,
does one lone detective have the truth? (No, probably not.)
Bit by bit the movie becomes completely and deliriously unhinged, as does Tamura himself. His doctor and his boss have been conspiring behind his back to destroy his mind, Oldboy-style — or are they attempting to save him from something even worse than madness? His former wife shows up in a femme fatale role; he’s found guilty of murder and sent to prison; he recovers repressed memories of being a wife-beating monster; he has past-life flashbacks and dream sequences within dream sequences, and … and then there’s a happy ending that for sheer irrelevance / irreverence is only one-upped by Miike’s own mind-melter at the end of Dead or Alive.
I suspect a movie this frankly berserk works best when you’ve already seen a few other films that perform the same sort of genre hopscotch. Not that the movie is designed to make a lick of sense anyway. It’s an experiment in comedy, and it’s pretty daring; the movie gets laughs any way it possibly can, and never slows down or goes back over previously-explored territory. It’s also a good example of solid filmmaking on a small budget. The digital photography employs bright, cheerful colors — even the night scenes have a cheeky glow to them — and I liked how the koala suit is both elaborate and cheesy: the designers gave it a gamut of expressions, but you can still see the zipper in every shot from behind. A good metaphor for the film itself.