Starring: Mayu Ozawa, Soran Tomoto, Seiko Ito, and Sonomi Hoshino
Written by: Suzuyuki Kaneko and Masashi Yamamoto
Directed by: Masashi Yamamoto
“Maybe the house is happy today.”
Moving Day gets all kinds of weird in Masashi Yamamoto’s Wonderful Paradise, one of the featured screenings of this year’s Fantasia International Film Festival.
The estranged Sasaya Family is looking for a new place. Doomed by their father’s gambling debts (and recent divorce as their mother left him for a coffee shop owner), brother and sister Akane and Yuta are restless as the movers come to pack away their lives. But Akane has one last gambit. An errant tweet imploring the town and world beyond to celebrate their final day in the house.
But as more and more people take Akane up on her offer, bringing along with them copious amounts of booze, drugs, and food, the night starts to take weirder and weirder turns. These turns include the ghosts of their grandparents showing up to boogie and kids turning into sticks that can talk.
Operating with all the logic and consistently absurd energy of an I Think You Should Leave sketch, Wonderful Paradise starts as one kind of funny. Only to then quickly morph into a completely different kind of funny mere minutes later.
Co-written and directed by punk auteur Masashi Yamamoto, the film lulls one into a neat sense of domesticity at the start. We are shown the fractured Sasayas, who are in a sort of transition, both personally and literally. All of these opening scenes have a tersely funny edge to them. However, both the cast and crew play these opening moments deadly straight. By setting up the patter and energy of the family early, we get to notice (and appreciate) once things start getting weird.
And trust me fully when I say they get plenty fuckin’ weird.
That said, even with the increasing oddity of the circumstances, Yamamoto and his truly game cast keep everything playing wonderfully. And grounded too! Even when the movie around them is going pretty broad. The contempt of the children toward their returned mother feels genuine, as do both the sibling’s increasing disconnection from the turns the “party” start to take.
And thanks to the “fuck it” energy of everyone behind the camera, things keep escalating. Through a shotgun wedding, a dance sequence, and multiple arterial sprays of blood! Just when you think you have a handle on where Wonderful Paradise wants to go, it completely changes track and genre to serve its latest gag. Sure, some might be turned off by its slightly manic energy and the way it starts to float from scene to scene toward its second act and on.
But to be that particular would be to miss some of Wonderful Paradise’s most gonzo and truly sweet of turns. Turns that may look and feel cartoonish, but ones still imbued with real heart and warmth.