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Udon
Year: 2006
Yusuke Santamaria and Manami Konishi
Director: Katsuyuki Motohiro
Producer: Chihiro Kameyama
  Cast: Yusuke Santamaria, Manami Konishi, Tortoise Matsumoto, Kyoka Suzuki, Takeshi Masu, Jin Katagiri, Jun Kaname, Fumiyo Kohinata, Katsumi Kiba, Takutomi Matsui, Toru Emori, Sayoko Ninomiya, Mayumi Myosei, Hiroyuki Morisaki, Hideki Nakano, Munenori Nagano
  The Skinny: Warm, amusing, and entertaining. The team behind Bayside Shakedown tries their hand at a heartwarming comedy, but the filmmakers try too hard to make things authentic, making for an uncomfortable mix of documentary and family comedy.
Review
by
Kevin Ma:
     Udon seemed destined to be the ultimate crossover comedy from Japan. The team behind the film built an exhibit at the Cannes Film Festival, complete with udon stands to attract attention. They even billed udon as the "soul food of Japan" on the film's international posters. I don't blame them for trying - after all, udon is one of Japan's favorite foods. Yet many people still believe that sushi is the representative Japanese cuisine, when it's actually considered a luxury item in its homeland. If anyone could make udon the next big thing, I thought Katsuyuki Motohiro, director of three of the Bayside Shakedown films and probably my favorite commercial director working in Japan today, would be the man to do it. But, while Udon is much like the dish itself - warm, slick, and easy to consume - the film doesn't really do that much.
     Udon opens in New York City, where Kosuke has spent six years trying to become a stand-up comedian. The good news is that Kosuke is played by real-life Japanese comedian Yusuke Santamaria, who found his way into the lead role after the success of Negotiator, one of the Bayside Shakedown spin-off films. The bad news is that Kosuke wants to be a stand-up comedian in English. After six years of failure, he finally decides to return home to the small town of Sanuki, also known as "Udon Country" because of the concentration of udon shops. Considering that he left home swearing off the family's udon shop, Kosuke's return doesn't exactly please his father (Katsumi Kiba). One day, on a random trip to the woods, Kosuke's car breaks down. Luckily, he runs into the clumsy Kyoko (Manami Konishi), but a bear causes them to be stranded at the bottom of a cliff. Eventually, they manage to find civilization in an udon shop, and there they have the best udon that they've ever tasted in their lives. What does that have to do with the plot, you ask? Just wait.
     Desperate in need of money to repay his debts, Kosuke takes on a job peddling the local town magazine, where Kyoko works as a writer, to bookstores. Sadly, no one told him that town magazines don't sell. Right at that moment, an epiphany comes in the form of a cameo by those boys from Summer Time Machine Blues (director Motohiro's previous film), when Kosuke realizes that there are no magazines about udon shops in "Udon Country". With some help from the magazine's staff, and an old childhood friend of Kosuke's who handles advertising, Kosuke and Kyoko decide to start writing about obscure udon shops in Sanuki, starting with the one they visited after encountering the bear. Written as an adventure guide for udon seekers, the magazine proves popular and sales explode, starting a nationwide Sanuki udon craze that attracts people from all over Japan. But like all fads, the Sanuki udon fad will eventually fade, leaving Kosuke to finally confront his fractured relationship with his father.
     The filmmakers of Udon pride themselves on having shot 90% on location in Kagawa Prefecture and in real udon shops. This gives the film an undeniable sense of authenticity that certainly helps the filmmakers' intentions, especially when they use bright close-ups on those smoking hot udon. For much of the way, Udon feels like a variety show on Sanuki with fictional characters added in, and it's amusing enough. However, the udon craze goes on and on, with montages of either Kosuke and co. finding new udon shops or interviews of people eating udon, and it's already 85 minutes into the 134-minute film when the dramatic portion of the film kicks in.
     Katsuyuki Motohiro excels at two things that have made him the blockbuster filmmaker that he is: screwball comedies with a hint of dryness (Space Travelers and Summer Time Machine Blues) or involving big-budget blockbusters (The Bayside Shakedown films). Motohiro can handle both genres with impressive style and technique, but that style and technique seldom show up in Udon. Motohiro and writer Masashi Todayama do make use of some of those screwball comedy devices at points in the film, but Udon is first and foremost a warm human comedy, and that's not what Motohiro excels at. While Udon is effective at stirring up warm pleasant feelings (much like a bowl of udon), the dramatic and factual aspects of the film often clash and never blend into a convincing whole. One example: in the middle of the udon craze section, the characters suddenly decide to sit down for a heart-to-heart conversation on accepting their predestined future. The moment not only seems contrived, but the emotions are unearned. Not so surprisingly, writer Todayama also wrote Transparent, Motohiro's only other attempt at a warm human comedy before Udon.
     Udon's most creative moment comes during a fantasy sequence where one of the staff creates a comic character called Captain Udon. The sequence blends computer animation with live action, anime, and comic technique to create something that's visually dazzling, but its connection to the plot is minimal, and only slightly hints at the comic craziness Udon could've been. Nevertheless, while Udon's human dramedy didn't attract many audiences to the big screen, the film will probably find its audience on the small screen, as its structure better resembles a television drama (it was, after all, produced by Fuji TV) than a blockbuster. Udon has its heart in the right place, but blockbuster status was just not meant to be. Still, while it may not start another udon craze anywhere in the world, Udon will convert just about any viewer into an udon fan. It sure worked for me. (Kevin Ma 2007)
Availability: DVD (Japan)
Region 2
Fuji Television
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Japanese Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS 5.1
Removable Japanese and English Subtitles
Commentary, Featurettes, etc.
 

   
 
 
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