"Fine, Totally Fine": Welcome, New Subversive! By Rui Pedro Tendinha

in 32nd Hong Kong International Film Festival

by Rui Tendinha

This could be a small gem. The characters are deviously funny, the comic setups pay homage to the most avant-garde physical humor, and there is also a kind of discrete melancholy.

Fine, Totally Fine (Zenzen Daijobu) by Yosuke Fujita was, in my opinion, the biggest discovery of all the Asian films shown at the Hong Kong International Festival. A comedy — and these days, it’s a statement to program a comedy in a festival — which had its international premiere here, it’s a real crowd-pleaser that should play quite well in the festival circuit beyond Asia.

The story deals with a pair of twentysomethings who struggle with responsibility and expectations as they mature into adulthood. One is a bookstore slacker who spends most of his time planning gory pranks; the other is a pleasant but insecure yuppie. They don’t make any sense together, but what makes sense in a Tokyo that confines dreams and alienates people? Told as a subtle allegory for Peter Pan syndrome, this debut feature tries to reinvent the effect of the childish comic gag — and sometimes even hits the bulls eye. The film also manages to transcend standard rom-com conventions with continuous self-reflexive dialogue destined to find a cult following.

Director Yosuke Fujita’s style is exhilarating, seeming fresh and unencumbered by normal cinematic conventions — but there’s also a formal polish worthy of Takeshi Kitano when it comes to the comedy. In my view, Fine, Totally Fine has much of the inner absurdity of humor that Japanese pop culture serves to nurture; in a way, its meditation on the nature of silly humor is, in itself, a bold tour de force. And even when it goes overboard, we sense the director is trying to say something quite profound about the values of the new generation.

Playing the lack of ambition of Japan’s contemporary youth for comedy? Why not? Yosuke’s approach never diminishes the countercultural conceptions of the surreal social conventions of Japan’s urbanites. Therefore, we have a father who gives up and a son who’s afraid to grow. From that tragicomic situation comes something quite off-beat: A slapstick notion of the silliness of modern life.

The texture added by these forays into humor greatly aids our understanding of the main characters, which in itself is a justification for including them. But Fine, Totally Fine never misplaces its warm heart, which beats right in time with Yosuke’s cynical assessment of youthful neuroses. We’ll be hearing Yosuke Fujita’s name quite often in the future; welcome, new subversive!