The feeling you get before watching the last remaining film of a director you like is always a bit two-sided. There is anticipation and a warm buzz fuelled by the near-certainty that you're about to watch something good, but there's also a lingering fear that it might not live up to your expectations. And worse, a saddening realization that after watching it you'll have reached a (temporary) dead end. And so I sat down to watch Satoshi Miki's The Loafers [Damejin], crossing my fingers and hoping for the best.
Miki is a clear favorite of mine. So far the man has made seven films and I've loved every single one of them. His latest film being the only (minor) exception, but even that was still pretty good. The Loafers is the first film Miki ever made, even though he would go on to release two more films before The Loafers would finally find its way into the open. It explains why the film is a tad cruder than his other work, on the other hand the crudeness does give the film a slightly more daring, edgier feel. And that's something I appreciate in a film.
The Loafers is the kind of film where everything can happen, everything happens and nothing has any impact whatsoever on the actual story. It's fragmented and random and outrageous plot points are forgotten just as quickly as they are introduced, but that's the main pull of the film. It's not so much about the story (if you want coherence, it's best to skip this one) as it is about the crazy characters and chill, relaxed atmosphere that lingers throughout the entire film.
Miki follows around three loafers. They don't work, they lack any goal in life and they spend their days hanging around in a shabby shack. Whenever they venture outside though crazy stuff happens to them. At one point they are bullied into becoming henchmen for a yakuza just released from prison, the next moment an apparition appears urging them to move to India in order to save the world. That's the kind of plot you can expect from this film.
Even though Damjin was Miki's first, it's one of the better-looking films he has directed so far. It may be just a little rough around the edges, but the entire film is drenched in a warm, orange/green filter that ties in perfectly with the hot, lazy summer day atmosphere Miki is striving for. It's a real treat. Add some nifty camera work and a little creative editing and you have a beautiful, slick-looking film that radiates warmth and tranquillity.
The music too is a perfect fit for the atmosphere. Miki doesn't really tie himself down to a single genre here, instead he cycles through some different styles, always on the lookout for music that add to the quirky, uplifting vibe. From the more classical drama music to folky and jazzy-sounding tunes, it's a weird little soundtrack that, like pretty much everything else in the film, works surprisingly well.
Even though The Loafers doesn't have any big Japanese actors on its payroll, there are some interesting faces to be spotted. Mikako Ichikawa does a great job as the leading lady, Ryuta Sato is surprisingly effective as her male counterpart. Yoichi Nukumizu is the ideal goofy sidekick and Akaji Maro has a small but very memorable cameo. It's a very solid cast without any weak links and a few great performances, perfectly suited for the kind of film Miki set out to make.
The Loafers is a very peculiar film that won't appeal to everyone. Not because it's so edgy, offensive or slow-moving, but because it lacks a certain level of coherence that's usually expected from a film. It's not exactly episodic or sketch-like, it's just incredibly random and free-form. The Loafers, much like its main protagonist, just lingers and ventures in whatever direction that's thrown before its feet. If you're looking for a great story you won't find it here. If, on the other hand, you're fine with drifting along on the lazy, comfy summer atmosphere you're in for quite a ride.
Miki has a unique, dead pan sense of humor that pushes the film forward. I can only hope he continues to make films in the same vein as his work doesn't really compare to anything else out there. It's silly alright, but there's also a deep feeling of warmth and serenity embedded in his work. For a first attempt The Loafers is already quite accomplished, easily capturing Miki's spirit. It's just a tiny bit rougher compared to his later films, but at the same time it's also a little purer. Miki fans are sure to enjoy this one, Miki novices should find a good starting place in The Loafers.