As with many young male fans, my heart was stolen by the stunning model/actress/singer Uchida
Yuki when she debuted onto the Japanese entertainment
scene in the early 90s. She first appeared on Fuji TV J-Dorama series like Hitotsu Yane
No Shita, Jaja Uma Narashi and At Seventeen, and in movies like Cat's Eye, where she often played tough, tomboyish characters whose
rough exteriors hid deep emotional pain and tragic pasts. With her
tall, slender body and model good looks she was an instant star and
even made a name for herself as a singing idol.
In 2002 Uchida briefly
retired from the entertainment industry to marry fellow actor Yoshioka
Hidetaka - but unfortunately that ended in quick divorce after a mere three
years. Uchida made a quiet return to TV drama in the Nihon TV drama Dare Yoi Mo Mama O Aisu and has since established herself as a
serious dramatic actress in series such as Hiryu-Team Medical Dragon
2, among others. Quiet Room Ni Yokoso (a.k.a. Welcome to the Quiet Room) , the latest film from writer/director/actor
Suzuki Matsuo - whose writing work includes the deeply emotional Tokyo
Tower: Okan To Boku To Tokidoki Oton (a.k.a. Tokyo Tower: Mom & Me, and Sometimes Dad) and the madcap Koi No Mon (a.k.a. Otakus in Love) - is a
nice showcase for Uchida's talents and is indeed a welcome comeback for
this young star.
Uchida portrays the oddly named Sakura Asuka, a former "campaign girl"
and now fledgling writer who has had her share of a rough life. Her former husband (Tsukamoto Shinya) was an older man, and a nebbish and
all-too-serious bore. Their profound personality differences were too
much of a strain on her and Sakura left him reluctantly - and even had an abortion. Asuka eventually meets a kindred spirit in the
eccentric and odd-looking Yakihata Tetsuo (Kudo Kankuro). While
mismatched in looks and appearance, Asuka falls for his bizarre
personality and they quickly marry.
However, Asuka's happy world soon turns upside down when she finds
herself institutionalized in a psychology ward after overdosing on
prescription drugs. Although Asuka claims it was just a mistake,
the doctors decide it was an aborted suicide attempt - which is something that Asuka
herself does not remember). Amidst the wacky, deranged and almost
cartoonish assortment of characters in the ward, she finds friendship
among fellow patients Kurita (Nakamura Yuko), who like Yuki had
attempted suicide previously; the childlike music protégé and longterm
patient Sae (Takahashi Mae); and the dark and charismatic Miki (an
absolutely stunning Aoi Yu), who suffers from severe bulimia.Together, the group endure and give support to one another as they await
their hopeful release from the ward, which is under the strict
supervision and iron will of head ward nurse Eguchi (Ryo).
The script by Suzuki recalls elements from Milo Forman's seminal 70s
drama One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, but doesn't share that film's
dark, anti-establishment tone. Instead, the film more closely
resembles James Mangold's touching and sobering Girl, Interrupted. In
fact, the similarities between the two movies are very striking - but
I don't think that diminishes Welcome To The Quiet Room at all. I
think the the film can be looked at as a companion piece to Cuckoo's Nest rather than
as a derivative.
As mentioned before, this movie is a showcase for
the talented Uchida Yuki. Her Asuka covers the entire emotional landscape
from drama to comedy, and even gets to do a little song and dance.
Writer/actor Kudo Kankuro (screenplay for Zebraman, Ping Pong, Go) is a
bit over-the-top in his role as the geekish Tetsuro. One can't help but
laugh in disbelief that his character could ever hook up with Uchida's character. He seems too much of a social oddball and his antics are
less funny and endearing than irritating and annoying. Fashion
model Ryo (Gaichu, Casshern, Azumi) never ceases to impress with her
quiet yet effective roles. She's not just a pretty face but a talented
actress that brings subtle depth to her characters. While Nurse Eguchi
is nowhere near the "witch" that Louise Fletcher's Nurse Ratched was in Cuckoo's Nest, she is still very much in the same spirit as that
Just as Angelina Jolie's supporting role stole the film from lead
Winona Ryder in Girl, Interrupted, so too does Aoi Yu's small role as
Miki steal the film from Uchida Yuki. Playing very much the same type of
dark rebel character that Jolie did, Aoi is absolutely mesmerizing in
the film. With her Amuro Namie-inspired cornrow braided hair, goth fashion, and cool and controlled performance, Aoi takes on a very different but pleasantly sexy appeal. Aoi is certainly one of the best young actresses in Japan today and this film is clearly an example why.
However, Suzuki Matsuo's direction here is a bit unfocused. Some of the funny
moments seem quite contrived and forced while the dramatic elements in
the film seem to belong to an entirely different movie. It's as if the
film is just as schizophrenic as the patients in the hospital ward,
shifting from absurd comedy to tear inducing social drama. While it often refers to The Wizard of Oz, the film seems to have more in
common with the psychedelic Alice In Wonderland.
Also, to be quite honest, the ending of the film really made me mad. Avoiding any spoilers, it suffices to say that Asuka's actions at the end seem
very uncaring and I'm not sure that it was Suzuki's intent to
elicit that type of reaction. While I think I can understand the
reasons for Asuka's eventual behavior, the ending seems a bit cold and heartless
in light of all that came out in the movie, and undoes all the friendships built in the film. I still liked Welcome To The Quiet Room but the ending turned
what could have been a sentimental and touching movie into a different one entirely - one where
you start to hate Uchida's character. Frankly, that's not the type of feelings
I'd like to associate with Uchida Yuki. (JMaruyama 2008)