By Ed Sum
(The Vintage Tempest)
Fantasia Film Festival 2021
Love, Life and Goldfish (すくってごらん) is one of those rare Japanese musicals where it’s tough not to smile at the end. The tunes are catchy, and I’d buy the soundtrack. I’ll have to watch it again when it hits other festivals (or arrives on home video) to affirm one minor detail which stuck out near the end—namely, was that fan featuring the shape of Jingoro the cat from Kimagure Orange Road (KOR)?
Makoto Kashiba (Matsuya Onoe) used to work at a prestigious bank in Tokyo, but due to some weird mistake, he gets sent out to work at this firm’s operation in a small town. He can’t deal, much less cope. He had a bright future as an accountant … or not. It seems he was never pleased with his life even when he thought he was going places with his firm. I’m fairly sure he tried to speak his mind, and it was frowned upon, hence his transfer and personality change.
One night while getting to know this new township, he meets Yoshino Ikoma (Kanako Momota). She runs an arcade of sorts. One game involves participants catching as many goldfish as possible in a set amount of time. Its significance is not just about the fact there’s plenty of fish in the sea but also, why should he catch one? In this film’s case, why fall in love with this particular girl? The answer is simple: he was smitten. She’s very much like Hikaru Hiyama.
There’s only one problem. She’s interested in another man, Noboru Oji (Hayato Kakizawa). He’s a drifter. Asuka (Nicole Ishida), a bartender, seems to have an interest in Makoto. However, she never makes a move since she recognizes how determined this man is. His insecurities humorously play out throughout the film, and it’s familiar.
This movie plays with the classic manga and anime tropes often used in tales about teenage life. I instantly thought of Kimagure Orange Road because I religiously followed both the series and collected the soundtracks. The style from the latter hits very close to the same wave of expression. Both even see a trio wrapped up in a crazy romantic triangle but instead of one guy can’t deciding between two girls, it’s the girl who seems fixated on one guy while flirting with the other. Kashiba is very much like Kyosuke. Both are wishy washy to the extreme. They internalize their thoughts way too much. We even catch Makoto talking out loud and his co-workers wonder what’s wrong with him–it’s too funny!
The musical numbers are really the standout as they externalize how these characters feel. As much as I’d wanted to hear either The Beatles “All You Need is Love” and Yuki Saito’s “Kanashimi yo Konnichiwa” (Hello, Sadness) adapted for this movie, it is better to have original songs. I’m sure this story will one day get turned into a Broadway musical even though there’s this form of western entertainment isn’t prominent in Japan. It’s begging to be done because of the colourful, bouncy and breezy aspects put behind the song compositions. Even the art design is tops.
This film could’ve gone further to hint if Makoto will ever take an interest in Asuka, but I’d need a rewatch to see if he ever did show a sign of interest. Had this film been realized as a series, it might have happened. Instead, I’m hoping there’s a English edition of the manga, Sukutte Goran, by Noriko Otani to see if the paper version goes down that route. There’s three volumes, and I’m fairly sure this movie is skipping a lot of details. Unlike KOR, which comprises 18 books, to read through them all to figure out what the protagonist desires the most is like splitting hairs.
Eventually, it’s no surprise Makoto learns he can’t always get what he wants. He has to learn how to hold his head high. He also needs to learn how to happy for himself first and foremost instead of thinking others can help. The positive take-away is in how life can be good is in not getting the girl. And true to the musicals of yesteryears, he can be singin’ in the rain (technically, this film’s signature tune is “Akai Gen-y”) to close off the show.
4 Stars out of 5