Japan Cuts Review: Tokyo Playboy Club


[For the month of July, we will be covering the New York Asian Film Festival and the (also New York-based) Japan Cuts Film Festival, which together form one of the largest showcases of Asian cinema in the world. For our NYAFF coverage, head over here. For Japan Cuts, here.]

Before many of the screenings at the Japan Society, they showed a trailer for the festival. I’m not a huge fan of the trailer (mostly because it spoils the best parts of Monsters Club, even if you don’t realize that at the time), but there is a short series of shots where a young man looks through a peephole and sees a woman dressed like a Playboy bunny. It was bright, colorful, and disorienting. I logically assumed that these would be from Tokyo Playboy Club, and I was totally ready for that. Well… those shots weren’t from Tokyo Playboy Club. I have no idea what movie they were from, and I still want to see that movie.

Nonetheless, I’m still quite happy with what I actually saw.

Tokyo Playboy Club (Tokyo Pureiboi Kurabu | 東京プレイボーイクラブ)
Director: Yosuke Okuda
Rating: NR
Country: Japan 

Seikichi (Ken Mitsuishi) is the head honcho of the Tokyo Playboy Club, a rather pathetic dance club with a seemingly nonexistent client base. Everything is pretty quiet until his old friend/something Katsutoshi (Nao Omori) comes to town seeking refuge in Tokyo. He did something bad at the place he used to be at, and he looks to Seikichi for help. Seikichi, who owes Katsutoshi for some reason or another, accepts the responsibility. Unfortunately for him, Katsutoshi quite the hothead, and he soon gets both himself and Seikichi in trouble by performing acts of violence on some pretty powerful people.

It seemed to me like not a lot happened in Tokyo Playboy Club. I honestly don’t know why I felt that way, because it’s not like the events were so paltry that they could have been considered nothing. Some pretty major things happened. People got stolen from, sexed, beaten up, and all sorts of other things, and it all happened very overtly. Nothing was hidden from view. Even so, the whole thing seemed kind of irrelevant. I think a part of that could be that so much of it took place in confined spaces, specifically all of the intense things (with the opening being an exception). The film has a very closed off feel (much like the club itself), and the lighting is not very good on most of the sets. By compartmentalizing everything, it loses any sort of grand importance.  

It’s also because the film is very slow-moving. There are a lot of longer takes (something which has been true about many of the films I’ve seen at Japan Cuts), and most of them are pretty static. Time in real time is only interesting for so long, and it makes everything seem like it’s going more slowly than it is. Because film time is usually compressed, watching things play out more closely to how they actually would seems kind of boring. Even though I can’t say I was every really “bored” with Tokyo Playboy Club, there were definitely some moments that went on a bit too long, even if they were enjoyable for the most part. 

Tokyo Playboy Club

According to the programmer who introduced Tokyo Playboy Club, people have been comparing Yosuke Okuda to Takashi Miike, but he made a point that it was an unfavorable comparison. I think he’s right, because Okuda is definitely not Takashi Miike, but I could see how a better version of the film could fit into Miike’s repertoire. That being said, Miike’s rather eclectic catalog means most things could probably be shoehorned under his name, but regardless. That being said, maybe part of that comes from the fact that star Nao Omori played the eponymous Ichi in Miike’s Ichi the Killer. I don’t know. Regardless, I think it’s unfair for people to compare Okuda to Miike, given that Okuda only has a couple of films under his belt. Maybe someday the comparison will be justified, but for the moment people should just let Okuda be Okuda. It’ll be for the best.

On the note of Nao Omori, as much as I love him as an actor (his face was one of the best things about Potechi (Chips)), I had a lot of problems with his character. Katsutoshi’s first appearance is as a calm, collected man who is intensely violent. That was cool. I liked it. He walked up to a dude and smashed his head in. There was no fanfare or anything of the sort. It was creepy. Then he started yelling at everybody. The outbursts matched his violence, but that’s not particularly interesting to watch. Now that I think about it, I wanted something more like his character from Ichi the Killer (although perhaps a bit more confident). My opinion of the movie changed drastically with Katsutoshi’s mood. When he was angry, it didn’t ruin things by any means. It was really a matter of disappointment.

But once I got over that and the fact that there were not going to be any bizarrely disorienting Playboy bunnies, I definitely enjoyed Tokyo Playboy Club. There’s a lot to like, and really there aren’t too many things to dislike. It’s quite funny (I’m not sure why I haven’t mentioned that yet), and it gets pretty crazy at times. Sure, it may not blow you away, but I think you’ll have some fun with this one.

Tokyo Playboy Club 2012

As something of an addendum, I feel like I should mention that I saw Tokyo Playboy Club immediately before watching the complete and total mind-fuck that is Gyo. Upon leaving Gyo, I had forgotten everything about Tokyo Playboy Club. Seriously. I had actually forgotten I had seen another movie that day. Only when I was discussing it with some other people after the fact did it hit me that I had been there for two films, but then it took someone actually naming the film before my memory came back properly. Obviously that says something about the brain-melting nature of Gyo, but I think it also reflects negatively on the lasting impact of Tokyo Playboy Club. I don’t know how different this review would be if it had been the only movie I had watched that day, but everything that was weird about it (and there were definitely weird things about it) just seemed kind of normal afterwards.