World Premiere of Hibana Screens to Packed House

2017/10/15 Report

Yoshimoto Creative Agency’s much-anticipated blockbuster Hibana (Spark) had its World Premiere Sunday morning October 15 at the Toho Nijo cinema. The house was packed out with not a single seat unoccupied. Director Itsuji Itao, actors Masaki Suda and Shuji Kawatani took the stage after the screening to discuss the project.

The film is based on the Akutagawa-prize winning novel by Naoki Matayoshi, which sold over 3 million copies. Matayoshi is also a famous comedian and part of the duo Peace. This experience was crucial for Matayoshi to write Hibana as it is set in the Japanese comedic world of manzai, where one performer is the straight man and one the comic. The source material was also made into a 10-part Netflix TV series last year.

The plot of the film Hibana revolves around Tokunaga (Suda), an up-and-coming manzai comic who meets the older, cutting-edge performer Kamiya (Kenta Kiritani) and immediately pledges to be his devoted student. Their relationship is fraught with challenges though. Tokunaga and Kamiya don’t live in the same city and both are part of separate manzai duos. The film follows their relationship for 10 years, outlining the heartaches and battles of minor comedians in Japan as well as the challenges of friendship.

Tokunaga is so taken with Kamiya because the older comic performs, and lives his life, in an outrageous and unconventional fashion. On stage he’s always trying to get a chuckle with the unexpected, taboo, or controversial joke. He’s not content to simply make people laugh, Kamiya wants to push Japanese comedy in new directions, and challenge people’s expectations of what being funny is. This is a fine attitude for an avant-garde artist, but not such a great one for a performer trying to make it mainstream media in Japan. In addition, Kamiya’s personal life is something of a mess. Since he can’t pay rent crashes at the apartment of woman who would like to be more than just friends, but Kamiya is expert at keeping everyone at arms length. The exception is Tokunaga, Kamiya lets him in to his interior world but at the same time is an atrocious friend, constantly taking advantage of the younger man.

The film works on so many lives. It accurately portrays a person who has high artistic goals but low personal ethics, also showing the tough road of Japanese b-grade entertainers. But more than that, it incisively depicts the relationship between two friends who are teacher and student on the surface. But below the surface we can see it is Tokunaga who helps and takes care of the reckless Kamiya, assuming the more mature role.

In addition to being a brilliant description of this friendship and sharp overview of the entertainment world in Japan, the piece sketches the melancholic passing of time and loss of a dream. Vivid in presenting humor and the drama of friendship, the work is also tinged with sadness and a certain poetic understanding of life.

Itao, Suda and Kawatani took the stage after the screening and delighted the audience with jokes and light banter. Of the filmmaking process for Hibana Suda said, “I didn’t know how to act to present to manzai on screen but director Itao didn’t given me any instruction, he just said ‘you’re doing fine.’ So I had to figure out the timing and Shuji just told me to do what feels natural.” The director added, “you can’t explain what makes people laugh so they just had to practice doing manzai as the Sparks duo.”

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