Camera Japan 2012 Review: PUPPY OLDMAN


(It's a coming-of-age film featuring people who have already aged...)

This year the Camera Japan film festival in Rotterdam had food as its main theme, but not all films in the programme focused mainly on that subject.
Still, most films will feature at least a FEW scenes of cooking, eating and drinking. Maeno Tomoya's new film Puppy Oldman, a domestic comedy-slash-drama is certainly no exception.

Not many people showed up for the film's first showing outside of Japan, its true International Premiere no less. And that was kind of a shame as the film is definitely worth seeing. It's even funny enough to become maybe a bit of a sleeper success. So what is it about? Read on...


The Story:

Toru still lives with his father. Both men are single and unemployed but manage to get by on the old man's savings. To the few people visiting Toru claims to be working on a career as a manga artist, but he has never published anything and in fact hardly ever leaves the house, fully depending on his father to take care of him.

This changes when a very busty Korean exchange student shows up at the door, thinking she has arrived at the house of the family she is supposed to live with. Toru immediately feels threatened by this stranger (if somewhat enticed as well) but his father warmly welcomes her in, putting up a charade to keep her with them for as long as possible.
Suddenly having a attractive woman around the place has a huge impact on both men though, and as they try to impress her they become rivals. Both Toru and his father discover they still have plenty of growing-up to do, and several harsh truths to face...


The Film:

Before the screening started, tomy surprise one of the Camera Festival programmers gave a short introduction where he explained a few things about Japanese softcore films called "pink films". These films are famous for the fact that besides featuring nudity and sex every ten minutes or so, the director has near total freedom about his choice of subject. Famous directors like Kawamatsu Kôji and Kurosawa Kiyoshi started out in pink and managed to emerge strong and with their own style. Apparently, Puppy Oldman was meant as a "pink" film, but an unusual kind of "pink" which allowed the director even more freedom.

I was puzzled when I heard this as I had totally not expected this to be a "pink" film beforehand. I was even MORE puzzled after having seen the film. Bar a few shots of someone's boobs and one quite chaste sex scene, all happening in the last fifteen minutes, nothing at all points towards this being a "pink". The low T&A count sheerly disqualifies it.

Basically, Puppy Oldman is a no-budget domestic drama featuring only a few actors and even less locations. What makes the film work and enjoyable to watch is that the story never becomes a fairy-tale or gets too outlandish, almost as if you're watching a fly-on-the-wall documentary about some rather odd people. Director Maeno Tomoya keeps everything refreshingly real and the film never becomes the male sex fantasy it might so easily have become given the set-up.

It helps that the acting of the two male leads is very good throughout the film, making a believable father-son team. The girl playing the South-Korean exchange student Hye-sun is initially just used (and probably selected) as eyecandy but her scenes get to be more demanding near the end, where she starts to shine as well.
The finale doesn't take the easy way out and is, impressively, both funny and poignant.
In fact the film was far better than I expected. I was one of very few people watching the film, but nobody left disappointed. Color me impressed! I'll keep a lookout on what Maeno Tomoya does from now on.


Conclusion:

People expecting a raunchy comedy might feel short-changed by the shortage of raunch, but Puppy Oldman delivers on many other fronts. It is a small unassuming film about a dysfunctional yet stable father-son relationship which gets a funny kick in the nuts.
I liked it a lot and wholeheartedly recommend it.

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