Original title: Quiet room ni yôkoso
Director: Suzuki Matsuo
Starring: Yuki Uchida, Kankurô Kudô, Yû Aoi, Shinobu Ootake
As readers of this blog will no doubt have noticed, I'm a huge fan of quirky Japanese movies. It seems they have a brand of offbeat humour that is distinctly their own, which combined with their cult of cuteness, or kawaii as they call it, I find endlessly amusing.
Undoubtedly much of this is due to Japanese culture in general being quite a bit different to my Western sensibilities. What seems to me surreal and weird may well be standard operating procedure in Japanese society.
With all that said, Welcome to the Quiet Room is a very Japanese movie. What's more, it's a stand-out, which makes it all the more surprising that it was only by sheer luck that I came across it at all. But then this kind of intelligent, quirky, and offbeat cinema is never a big money-spinner at the best of times, even less so when it's in Japanese. So I can understand a little how it slipped under the radar.
For lovers of the offbeat, the twisted and the weird, those who enjoy hunting down those hidden gems, this is a movie that will reward your persistence.
Set in a psychiatric ward, Asuka (Yuki Uchida) finds herself strapped to a bed with no idea how she got there. Her hallucinations segue in and out of reality as she tries to get a grip on where she is and why. Thankfully her husband soon makes a short visit, and piece by piece the events leading up to her situation are revealed.
In the meantime, she makes friends with the other patients, deals with hard-ass nurses, and finally is forced to come to terms with the awful truth of her predicament.
The movie plays at times like a Japanese 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest', with a similar focus on strong characters, quality acting and an offbeat sensibility. It also has shades of 'Girl, Interrupted' with its female camraderie. But what makes this movie stand out from them both is that it is often absolutely hilarious, without ever diluting the power of its story.
Being set in a psychiatric ward offers the chance to introduce a cast of quirky characters - the bulimics, the anorexics, the hustlers, and the just plain insane. These support roles are filled by a cast of well known actors who have obviously been given reign to have fun with their roles. It's also a movie where attention has been paid to the details ... keeping an eye on what's happening in the periphery of the frame is a must.
Of special note is the acting of ex-model and singer Yuki Uchida who turns in a stunning lead performance. She is certainly called upon to be a lot more than just eye candy, like she was in 1997's Cat's Eye.
Fans of offbeat Japanese drama should waste no time in hunting this one down.