Film #144: Turtles Are Surprisingly Fast Swimmers (2005)

kameaka: 亀は意外と速く泳ぐ (Kame wa igai to hayaku oyogu)
Director: Miki Satoshi
Language: Japanese and a bit of French
Length: 90 minutes
Watched on: 15 Feb 2015

I picked this and a few other things up in the UK using my Christmas money before I came back to Japan – although I could mostly get by fine now, I still don’t really want to watch movies without subtitles. Of course, if I didn’t restrict myself like that, I’d have a much wider selection of films to choose from, but frankly, most of the Japanese films I see advertised in cinemas seem as unappealing as the awful soap operas they have on their TV, so filtering them through the lens of being good enough to make their way across the world seems a good idea.

Thus I ended up with this, a feel-good film about small-town life in Japan. It’s charming but hideously and knowingly quirky, heavily inspired by the likes of Amélie and other early-2000s movies like it. It looks like a cartoon most of the time, with bright colours and carefully-arranged mise en scene. Its characters are archetypes that can be reduced to a single attribute – the quiet girl, the loud girl, the stoic ramen shop owner.

The story is purely background, as I don’t think much is ever made of it, or that it ends with an anticlimax, instead serving as the backdrop for a number of vignettes about the characters’ daily lives. The main character, stuck in the house while her unseen husband works abroad, in the throes of ennui, accidentally finds an ad looking for spies, so she answers it – but the people she meets turn out to be a crazy couple, who tell her that to be a spy, she must act as normal as possible. Then for the rest of the movie she starts second-guessing herself, wondering whether it’s really normal to buy so many carrots in the supermarket, or how a normal person ties their shoelaces.

Despite the quirkiness, I enjoyed the movie, as it was funny and silly, and the cast of characters was great, especially the crazy couple trying to sneak around. It had a lot of memorable moments, although the overarching plot could be left out without changing much. One other thing I liked a lot about this movie is that it forgoes any romantic subplot, except for a failed date with an old classmate – but basically, she’s married, so the relationships in this movie are not romantic in nature. When 90% or more of the movies you see have that kind of thing, it’s nice to find ones that don’t.

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