The first half hour or so of Party 7 is so funny I had a hard time seeing how the laughs could hold up for the entire movie’s 107-minute running time—and, big surprise, they don’t. This is like a Japanese version of the Tarantino anthology misfire Four Rooms, crossbred with a Jack Davis cartoon. Sounds like a can’t-miss combination, right?
Well, no. Party 7 starts off funny and spontaneous, all right, but after about forty minutes it turns into a shrill, turgid mess. It’s hard to be funny for even ten minutes at a time. Ask any standup comic. To be funny for two straight hours is Herculean, and this movie isn’t remotely up to the task. What’s most disappointing is how promising the setup is, and how they manage to go from the farcical lunacy of the movie’s opening minutes to total inertia in less than an hour.
The director was Katsuhito Ishii, who directed the amusing-if-inconsequential Shark Skin Man and Peach Hip Girl. Party 7 is inconsequential and insufferable to boot, which doesn’t bode well for whatever he plans to do next. (His next film was/is The Taste of Tea, which I have not seen yet but sounds at least more promising than how Party 7 turned out.) He’s got an eye for absurd situations and exaggerated characters, but has no idea how to spin them together, to make them work in unison instead of just exist as parallel elements. His idea of witty banter is to have two people shout at each other for minutes on end, and his idea of funny is to repeat the same slapstick sequence six times in a row from different angles.
The best moment in the film is the extended credits sequence, an amazing cartoon segment that looks like Peter Chung’s Aeon Flux, or maybe KMFDM cover artist Brute. Then the movie sets up its characters, in a way that’s less funny but still interesting. Then it begins getting stuck in one stupid rut after another, until what was at first funny and spontaneous turns leaden and repetitive. I’m reminded of many of the Pink Panther movies, where the animated credits were also the funniest part, and the rest of the film was unwatchable unless you were about four years old. Party 7 requires an older audience, both for the thematic material and for the amount of patience needed to sit all the way through.
Party 7 takes place in a grotty hotel in a secluded part of Japan. A gangster (Masatoshi Nagase) is taking refuge there with a suitcase full of money, presumably from other gangsters he’s ripped off. The place is staffed by weirdoes: the porter who takes his suitcase refuses to let it go until he gets an apology for his atrocious hairpiece (“You called me baldy!” he cries), and the desk clerk has this monomania about feces dropping spontaneously from the sky (“If it was thrown, it would have descended in an arc; this shit fell straight down!”)
The hotel has a secret room built by the owner, and the owner’s son (Tadanobu Asano, dressed like a prep school kid with his bangs plastered down over his eyes) manages to crawl into it after a good deal of work. The boy’s been busted repeatedly for peeping, but he can’t help himself, and so has gone crawling through the hotel’s air ducts in search of a good time. What he finds is the lair of the self-appointed superhero, “Captain Banana” (Yoshio Harada), who has been using the secret room to peep, and shows the boy the finer points of the art.
This leads to a scene that exemplifies so much of what’s wrong with the movie. The Asano character and Captain Banana sit behind a one-way screen, boxes of Kleenex on their laps, watching the Nagase character attempting to get it on with his uncooperative girlfriend. They argue. They grouse about the minutiae of the movie’s awesomely uninteresting plot. She burns him with her cigarette. They argue some more. The girl’s real boyfriend (a nerdy loser) shows up. The two men sit with Kleenex at the ready. The boyfriend and the gangster get into a shoving match. The two voyeurs get impatient. Then they start to argue. On and on and on the scene drags, and the only thing we can think about is how irreplaceable minutes of our lives are being sucked away by this nonsense.
What went wrong? As far as I can tell, it boils down to two big mistakes. The first is with the dialogue, the second with the plot. Ishii stuffs his character’s mouths with the sort of post-everything banter that passes for hip humor in movies these days—i.e., arguments about trivia or riffs on pop culture that most of the audience hasn’t seen. The fact that it is in Japanese, or from Japan, does not make it inherently funny; in fact, that makes it all the more interminable, because it feels like a giant in-joke that we’re not privy to. And as far as the plot goes, while a comedy doesn’t have to have a plot set in stone, it should not feel dramatically shapeless. Party 7 is rudderless enough (and certainly unfunny enough) to qualify as a bad Saturday Night Live skit stretched out to two hours.
Despite everything, there are some really funny moments stuck inside this mess. The opening dialogue about poop falling from the sky is hilarious, and there are random lines scattered throughout that had me laughing for no particular reason. But the pacing of the whole film is fatally off, and the vast majority of the scenes are missed opportunities. There’s a scene where the Asano and Harada characters try to demonstrate how a seductive neighbor might behave, compulsively one-upping each other in their depictions. Like so much of the rest of the film, it should have been riotous, but instead falls flat on its face. You know a movie is in trouble when it can’t even get laughs out of macho samurai-movie legend Yoshio Harada playing a peeping pervert in a superhero suit.
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