Toronto Japanese Fest 2017 Review: DANCHI, A Superb Example of Subdued Comedy
After their son’s tragic death the Yamashita’s, Hinako (Fujiyama Naomi) and Seiji (Kishibe Ittoku), sell their herbal medicine store and move into an apartment complex, a Danchi, in Osaka,. The building is maybe half full and most of the residents are retired, giving plenty of time for the resident women to gather and share stories and gossip about the other residents.
During the day Seiji takes walks in the park and Hinako takes part-time work at a grocery store. They still have one loyal customer though, an awkward young man named Takashi who mixes up every adage he tries. When an election is called to replace the current building representative Shozo, Seiji is reluctantly convinced to run against him. However, Shozo wins the election easily and Seiji hides in shame in the storage box under the kitchen floor, essentially becoming a shut in.
Noticing Seiji has ‘disappeared’ the other residents at their apartment complex talk about them and rumors spread that Hinako has murdered Seiji. Takashi returns to let the couple know that he is leaving, but, if they come with him he could reunite them with their lost son. How is that possible?
I know from that summary that Danchi (The Projects) may not sound like comedic gold but it is one of the finest examples of subtle comedy, a kind of comedy that I find the Japanese do very, very well. Written and directed by Sakamoto Junji Danchi’s humor is largely straightfaced and deadpan, expressed mostly by words than by physical actions. It is very much like taking the Boke (Funny Man) out of a Manzai comedy routine and leaving everyone to play the Tsukkomi (Straight Man). The irony of the project’s location in Osaka is not lost on us, the Osaka region being the one most associated with this comedy style. Mostly everyone is a Tsukkomi. Tomiura Satoshi does play a delivery who cannot stand for more than three minutes before experiencing a bout of irritable bowel syndrome.
Hangdog faced Kishibe is terrific as husband Seiji; he is so pastoral and gentle. The rest of the supporting cast do well to propel the plot. But it is Fujiyama who is the real center of this flick. As the rumors begin to swirl about the possible murder she just rolls with it, possibly daring to see how far it will go. She knows the rumors are unfounded but she lets it go to the point that is confronted by a news team and the local authorities show up to investigate.
By that time Takashi has revealed his origin to the Yamashitas and the story takes on a bizarre twist. Fulfilling one last, and enormous, order of herbal medicines for Takashi and his people he promises to take Hinako and Seiji to meet their son. The Yamashitas choose to leave the projects and join Takashi on his journey home. In these final minutes of Danchi there is some resolution between some of the residents and the couple and just when all hope seems lost there is a final shot that makes the whole experience that much more rewarding. When you remember Takashi’s struggles with everyday sayings it will all make sense.
Danchi is a gentle and subdued comedic gem with messages about loss, hope, and defiance. The only thing loud about this film will be your laughter at the subtle humor as it rolls out as quiet as the whispers between the ladies from the projects.