Sometimes a film just pops up out of nowhere. It may have all the traits and perks you're looking for in a good, solid film but in some obscure way it still managed to slip by without triggering any of the usual warning signs. It was like that with The Seaside Motel, lucky for me I still ran into it by surprise. A quick look at the poster was all I needed to reassure myself this was going to be my kind of film. And indeed it was.
Once up on a time colorful ensemble comedies were plenty in Japan. Dominated by the likes of Katsuhito Ishii (Party 7, Taste of Tea) and Gen Sekiguchi (Survive Style 5+), these film harvested lots of critical acclaim but failed to land themselves an acceptably sized audience. As quickly as they boomed they faded again, only to be revived into complete obscurity on rare occasions (who has seen LoveDeath or Donju here?).
Moriya picks up where others left the genre, but considering the lack of buzz surrounding this film he isn't going to make any kind of dent in the international scene. It's a shame because there is plenty to like here. The premise is loosely borrowed from Party 7, but goes its own way from there. And while this film is hardly original or mind-blowingly spectacular, there is still plenty of fun to be had if you're in the right mood.
Central to the story is the titular motel. Moriya follows the people lodging in the rooms, presenting several storylines that cross each other, sometimes diverting again, sometimes coming together. The film features a rather typical set of characters (young boy and prostitute, yakuza, old man with young girl) and some quirky plot point to keep it all running. You know the drill.
Moriya has a good eye for pleasant visuals. The camera work is neat, playful and well executed, the set pieces are detailed and the film features a warm and cheery color palette. There's a light and enjoyable atmosphere coming from every frame and even though the film does introduce some more dramatic moments the lighthearted atmosphere remains at all times.
The music is poppy and hip, not targeted at real atmosphere but simply there as an extension of the lighthearted feel of the film. It's not particularly good but it works well enough within the confines of the movie. While I usually prefer a more tailored soundtrack it's not much that much of an issue in this kind of comedy. It doesn't irritate and that's fine enough.
The acting is good and appropriate. Aso is able to shine once again (you might remember her from Satoshi Miki's Instant Numa), the rest of the cast puts in some nice comedic performances too. Of course there's no impressive dramatic power play here, but the movie doesn't exactly call for that either. The acting is more than sufficient in any case.
What the film lacks in originality it compensates in style, warmth and overall fun. There are some pretty amusing characters and some nifty coincidences that will raise a fair few smiles along the way. Fans of the genre should definitely feel right at home amongst the colorful cast and events on display here.
Seeing as how this film is lacking any kind of international attention I'm sure not too many people are actually waiting for another entry in the genre. If you didn't like Party 7, Shark Skin Man or Survive Style 5+ there is little here that might amuse you so it's better to just leave the film as is. But if you liked those films it's a pretty sure bet the film will result in an amusing evening behind the screen.
It's definitely not the best entry in the genre, but it's a very welcome addition for those craving fresh meat. The Seaside Motel is perfect filler that leaves you behind smiling, content with the 100 minutes of quality escapism you've just experienced. Definitely recommended.