Frog River – Review
by Miguel Douglas on July 09, 2010
Tsutomu has it rough when it comes to his masculinity. Shamed when he was younger due to an unlikely dare that he couldn’t commit to, he has always lived under the shadow if his peers and never fully stands up for what he believes in. He has since become an aspiring DJ and works as a clerk at a record store where he can play all the music he wants too without being bothered. This all changes though when he meets up with his peer from the past, the ever oppressive and bullying Shiba. Shiba has been bullying Tsutomu for as long as he can remember, always putting on a friendly façade to convince Tsutomu that he is actually his friend. Shiba continually gets him into trouble, but when a mere accident results in Tsutomu having to battle a rival in a kendo duel, will Tsutomu finally gain the courage to face his fears?
Written by Katsuhito Ishii (The Taste of Tea, Funky Forest: The First Contact) and directed by Hajime Ishimine (Funky Forest: The First Contact), one should expect this bizarrely creative duo to bring forth a film as strange as it is unconventional— Frog River certainly does just that. For what it’s worth, Frog River is a film that is far removed from the norms one would consider within the genre of comedy, instead relying on an offbeat narrative structure so often viewed within their other collaborative works. The film is surprisingly non-linear in its approach to storytelling, focusing primarily on experiencing the moment as is rather than constructing a coherent plot. Definitely detached from the realm of normality as much as possible, the film seemingly elevates itself towards a desired result of subtlety over exaggeration. With an overabundance on extended scenes involving strangely random humor, the film seems to beget any sort of resemblance towards traditional comedy often seen in films within the genre. Irony is a staple ingredient within films by both Ishii and Ishimine, but their subtle approach taken here in enticing humor might perplex individuals not quite accustomed towards their handling of these sort of comedic antics.
It should be simply put that Frog River won’t necessarily be appreciated nor understood by everyone. The film is certainly aware of this, and it definitely seems to tailor to an acquired taste—specifically for those who enjoy pure randomness involving their comedy. Throughout showcasing such laborious comical scenes though, the film still presents a very introspective take concerning the concept of masculinity within a modern context. Sure, while the film remains comical for the most part, the exploration of Tsutomu’s personal conflict concerning his manhood is a primary focus. This injection of questioning his masculinity provides the film with a notion of relatability far removed from the comical sequences that occupy most of the film. This provides the film with an eccentric blend of drama and comedy that is hit or miss for the most part. Whether this is realized within the context of the viewing audience is entirely subjective, mainly because the film at times can’t decide whether to be focused on being a serious look into how one becomes a man or to elaborate more on its funniness. Again, the film is simply constructed in a way that reinforces and promotes an acquired taste in comedy.
Like stated previously, the elements of comedy within the film relish in their ironical display of humor and self-pity. With moments such as Tsutomu getting in a fight with a homosexual male, to him fantasizing about a girl he’s too afraid to express his feeling towards, the film highlights the irony of Tsutomu’s life situation and his unwillingness to really change it. Questioning this unwillingness is focal point for the film, in which it provides some very poignant moments that are intermixed with that some uncanny weirdness. It’s not far off to say that Frog River doesn’t seem to promote the strenuous nature of everyday life, but rather intends to deliver the audience a world that is awkwardly familiar but still entirely based within a realm of fantasy. When we notice the situation that Tsutomu finds himself in at the end, the allegorical nature of the film is highlighted as a pivotal step towards his affirming ideals to take that step towards finally becoming a man, even if it is on own accord and not something forced upon him.
Overall, Frog River is an odd but somewhat uplifting journey into how one perceives their state of being as a man. If one doesn’t enjoy the randomness of comedy often times seen in director Ishimine’s and Ishii’s other films, then this film is probably won’t be as enjoyable—and in some cases, completely unwatchable. For what it delivers in terms of originality, the film hits high marks in almost every regard, which brings about a very creative look into the minds of some of Japan’s most interesting directors. They would both go one to collaborate and create other, even more bizarre film projects, but Frog River remains an excellent starting point towards viewing what these two directors have to offer towards handling Japanese cinema with a creative twist—even if everybody might not get it.