Written by: Johan Fundin on November 22nd, 2006
Approximate running time: 85 mins
Aspect Ratio: Widescreen, Colour, 35mm
Director: Minoru Kawasaki
Writer: Minoru Kawasaki, Masazaku Migita
Cinematography: Yasutaka Nagano
Cast: Lee Ho, Eiichi Kikuchi, Artur Kuroda, Hironobu Nomura, Hideki Saijo
“If you thought nothing could surprise you anymore about Japanese cinema, then experience the films of Kawasaki Minoru” – Leeds Film Quarter (UK)
Keiichi Tamura is a successful businessman (marketing chief executive) at a pickle company. He is also a koala. Bizarrely this doesn’t bother his co-workers at the office, but then given that the company president is a giant white rabbit and the local shopkeeper is a frog, it is not at all surprising. When his human girlfriend, the beautiful Yugari, is found murdered, Keiichi becomes the prime suspect. But the question is: Is he really the killer or has he been set up?
Impossible to put in a particular genre, Kawasaki’s film contains sequences of virtually every established genre. The first half of Executive Koala is characteristically comic but from midway on the violence, torture and humiliation directed towards women is escalating dramatically. A semi-naked female beauty (only wrapped in a towel) is running around screaming and becomes a victim of an axe-wielding koala bear. The axe-inflicted violence results in gore spraying all over the screen in some truly cool choreographed hypnotic images. The axe violence is expertly depicted in another couple of sequences later on in the film, in flash-backs of what could have happened (as a parallel and challenging narrative to what really happened. What is true and what isn’t?). And if that was not enough, the viewer is supposed to believe that the koala is raping schoolgirls and beats the crap out of Yakuza bosses. Following his girlfriend’s brutal death, Keiichi suffers from horrible nightmares and begins to question his own sanity. But, you’ll see, things are even more confusing than they appear to be as dream sequences are frequently blended with “real” events. Impossible to guess the killer, Executive Koala is suspense and black humour until the very last frame – a film not to be missed under any circumstances.
The trademarks of Minoru Kawasaki’s cinema could be summarized as follows: In several films, animals the size of humans are integrated in the human society and with no explanation. Several different film genres are blended in the same film. The dialogue is occasionally sung instead of spoken (compare: Takashi Miike’s The Happiness of the Katakuris (2002)). Framing and acting is occasionally theatrical, especially in scenes with sung dialogue. Some of his films end with a moment of reconciliation between opponents or enemies.
The World Sinks Except Japan (2006)
Executive Koala (2005)
Beetle – the Horn King (2005)
Calamari Wrestler (2004)
Miss Spy (1997)
Silent Möbius gaiden: Bakumatsu Anbu shimatsu ki (1993) (V-cinema)
At this date it seems that Executive Koala is unavailable in any home video format, so to watch the film one has to try catching an independent arthouse screening or a film festival that draws attention to the director’s work. An American DVD studio, Pathfinder Home Entertainment, released another Kawasaki film, Calamari Wrestler, last year, so hopefully the studio (or any other DVD studio for that matter) will continue releasing Kawasaki’s films on DVD. The most important thing for the moment is that Minoru Kawasaki has finally been discovered in the western world; the future looks promising!