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So there you are. Boxers below your knees, hooker to your right and your girlfriend standing a couple feet in front of you. Right in front of the used condom. We’ve all been there, trying to explain to our loved-one that it’s not as bad as it looks, right? Or, at least, some variation involving masturbation and hookers. C’mon! Really, guys? Don’t leave me hangin’ here!
The above scenario is representative of Boys on the Run’s mix of low-brow humor and tragic romance. Writer/director Daisuke Miura’s debut is a breath of fresh in Japan cinema. It’s like the perfect meeting point between Judd Apatow’s down-to-Earth lovable losers and author Yukio Mishima’s tragic Japanese relationships. Behind all the dick jokes and self-loathing, there is a spirit to Boys on the Run that elevates it and makes it distinctly Japanese.
Boys on the Run (Boizu on za ran)
Director: Daisuke Miura
Release Date: TBA
As a foreigner, it’s hard to look at Japan’s social standards for displaying and selling sexuality and not bat an eye. It fascinates and scares us mostly because we don’t understand the world it occupies. Tanishi is our guide into this wonderful world of call girls, sex workers and masturbation toys. He’s a sexually frustrated, 29-year-old salary man that works for a Gashapon company — one that seems to be barely surviving, these days.
Did I mention he’s sexually frustrated? The film opens with Tanishi making a desperate Telekura phone call for sex on his birthday. After some awkward, gross sex with a hooker four-times his weight, he is beaten and chased onto the street for upsetting her. In an alternate reality, Blink 182’s “What’s My Age Again?” blasts over this scene which impeccably captures Tanishi’s unimaginable loserdom. Don’t worry though: It’s uphill from here. Well, sort-of.
The first-half of Boys on the Run plays out like an otaku’s fantasy. Tanishi makes little effort in the workplace. His face is more acne than face, he is socially awkward and he doesn’t know the first thing about approaching a girl. Yet, the cutest girl in the company (and Tanishi’s crush) starts to fall for him. All of a sudden, his life suddenly doesn’t seem so utterly hopeless. Before he knows it, he is biking three hours across Tokyo to pick-up a porno he wants to lend to her. Never mind that it turns out to be an animal porn involving dogs. She still likes him!
Well, I’m leaving out one small detail. The main reason she doesn’t take him for a complete freak at this point is due to Tanishi’s new buddy Aoyama’s advice. Not only does this Aoyama work for the biggest Gashapon machine manufacture in Tokyo, he also is quite the ladies’ man. With some sound advice, Tanishi is able to repair this awkward situation. However, it’s only a matter of time until he gets himself into a much more unforgivable one (see: intro paragraph). One that Aoyama can’t help him get out of. Also, one that Aoyama soon takes advantage of by becoming the girl’s new love interest. What a dick!
Boys on the Run soon becomes a much darker film. If the opening is full of light-hearted, awkward giggles you’d expect to get in a Judd Apatow film, think of the following half as a sort of twisted, Japanese take on 500 Days of Summer. It’s still kind of funny and cute, but it’s also really dark and hard to watch. Things get ugly. Real ugly. Tanishi becomes a maniac obsessed with Taxi Driver, the virgin girl turns into a ho-bag, and Aoyama becomes a real jerk-off of a rival.
What makes Boys on the Run so special is its ending and how it ties everything together. I find Aoyama’s turn from warm friend to backstabbing jerk hard to buy, but the rest of the drama is as believable as the ones that occupy great, tragic Japanese literature (think Kokoro or Confessions of a Mask). The beginning of the film invites us to poke fun at how big of a loser Tanishi is but, by the film’s end, the tone changes and you start to cheer for him. The ending may not be ideal, but it’s still one about overcoming shyness and cowardliness. It feels much more real and powerful than any Judd Apatow ending. It’s unconventional message is one you don’t often get in American romantic-comedies.
As a Japanese major who struggles to find an entryway into contemporary Japanese culture, Boys on the Run provides a revealing look at the awkward nature of relationships, shame and the sex industry. It grounds these things and presents them in nonchalant way that helps you buy into the fiction and understand the characters. Sure, the characters are exaggerated — this is based on a manga, after all — but the concerns, hopes and conflicts that they embody are universal. Boys on the Run takes a Western approach to a slacker romance, but eventually turns into a uniquely Japanese drama. The result is a one-of-a-kind film. One that I hope is never remade for a Western audience.