Fly Me to Saitama and Let Me Play Among the Stars

31 Aug

Fly Me to the Saitama - WikipediaBy Ed Sum
(The Vintage Tempest)

Playing at Fantasia Digital Film Festival 2020 On Demand till Sept 2. Buy your virtual ticket here.

Fly Me To Saitama does more than take inspiration from a certain Frank Sinatra song. This film easily extols why Japanese anime and manga content producers are in love with the Baroque. The Rose of Versailles anime and manga is perhaps the most well-known example. The extraordinary detail in the art and acute sense of grandeur is part of the style which spanned from the 17th-18th century. When realized in live action, you can’t help but marvel at the attention to detail in the costume and set design.

Traditionally, the term is used to describe art and music more than society (where the plot lays). The lifestyle is not about flamboyance, but rather exuberance. The hubris lays with how people changed in an era which followed the Renaissance. Societal norms were being challenged, and there was an awakening.

When put to live action, this movie does not hold back. This film delivers a tale straight out of a Charles Dickens novel. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity…”

I’m sure director Hideki Takeuchi and writer Yuichi Tokunaga had Tale of Two Cities in mind when adapting Mineo Maya’s manga. The main story gives us a raison d’être—Ami Sugawara (Haruka Shimazaki) is getting married and is happy to go live a better life in a new city. Her parents are taking her to the engagement party and after one wrong statement, her parents are ready to turn around. They are proud of Kumagaya, the township where they came from, but she isn’t. To lighten the tension, they listen to the radio where an audio play unfolds.

Amusingly, it’s about what the Sugawara family were just fuming about. Saitama is a low brow prefecture when compared to the highly civilized Tokyo. Traveling between municipalities isn’t easy, and it requires visas. Momomi’s (Fumi Nikaido is at her best when crossdressing) idealistic world is being challenged. He has an attitude because he’s not only the Tokyo governor’s son but also Hakuhodo Academy’s student council president.

When he meets Rei Asami (Gackt), flowers are blooming and after one affectionate kiss, he’ll move mountains to be with him. When Asami reveals he is from Saitama, nothing has changed. But in order to come out means more than a civil war and convincing their peers about the need for change. All prefectures must be treated equally not only in the courts but also leveling the status quo.

The subtexts discovered in this film is magnificently handled through melodramatic moments to make viewers remember. It’s easy to see the cast and production team having fun with the somewhat delicate subject. It’s rare for any performer to appear in a truly period piece. Seeing them ham it up only adds to the comedy of the absurd, and that alone makes this film brilliant.

5 Stars out of 5

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