High school boys taking up synchronized swimming at the instruction of a dolphin trainer. Girls in a remedial math class forming a swing jazz big band. A timid clerk and nurse duo finding a large briefcase of stolen money. Shinobu Yaguchi’s films are identical in that they are uniquely ridiculous, wacky comedies, centering on the nonsensical. But even if his movies seem one-dimensional in nature, there’s much more to Yaguchi’s filmmaking that makes his movies well worth a watch.
If there’s one thing that those who watch Yaguchi’s absurd comedy-dramas can depend on, it’s the director’s consistency. All ten of his films follow a cookie-cutter, “zero-hero” framework bordering on the generic. Awkward, bumbling protagonists undergo a bizarre set of trials, ultimately adjusting to find themselves triumphant. “Water Boys” is a movie about five high school boys who join the rather unconv- entional sport of synchronized swimming. “Swing Girls,” its later counterpart, is almost identical in structure and style as it follows 13 high school girls forced to delve into the world of swing jazz after accidentally poisoning their school’s brass band. Both are full of feel-good charm and laughs, whole- some and entertaining, whilst showcasing Yaguchi’s classic quirks. Neither entail a sense of masterful cinematographic brilliance or depth, but Yaguchi has never sought to claim such distinction in his works. Bizarre comedies are where his directorial focus lies, and bizarre comedies are what he does well. It’s evident that he has an established artistic voice; it may not be one that is particularly profound, but it is one for which he is known, and one he has stuck to throughout his career.
It is clear from his latest film, “Wood Job” (released in May of this year), that Yaguchi has no intentions of altering his foundational style. Another feel-good, comedy-drama drawing upon his earlier works, it tells the story of 18-year old Yuki and his transformation from pampered city boy to hardened, loincloth donning mountain man via his experiences in the forestry industry. However, where his previous films fall short in terms of depth and overall purpose, Yaguchi utilizes in “Wood Job” his signature ludicrous comedy as a medium to convey an appreciation for traditional values like natural living and traditional spirituality forgotten by modern society. This film sheds light on Yaguchi’s potential to grow as a filmmaker; having established his own style, he is now capable of creating films carrying deeper messages to his audiences.
At the end of the day, Yaguchi is no Kubrick, no revolutionary artist whose works hold prophetic or artistic insight. But his films are consistent and classic in their own respect. Though he tiptoes the constant precipice between depthless unoriginality and artistic idiosyncrasy, there lies within Yaguchi’s films an undeniable charm.