Hold Up Down

Hôrudo Appu Daun
2005 / 96m - Japan
Comedy, Crime
Hold Up Down poster

Hiroyuki Tanaka (often credited as SABU) is one of my favorites, but his career had a few bumpy patches. Despite liking it a lot, Hold Up Down [Hôrudo Appu Daun] ended up a minor disappointment when I first watched it. That probably explains why I wasn't too eager to revisit it after all this time. It's still far from my favorite Tanaka, but without crushing expectations weighing it down, it turned out somewhat better than I expected. It's not an ideal entry-level film for people unfamiliar with his work, but fans should 100% give it a go, as all his usual traits are on display.

screencap of Hold Up Down [Hôrudo Appu Daun]

Tanaka is one of those directors who made a name for himself in select circles only (I remember he was a BIFFF regular for a while). I got to know him in the early 00s and immediately dug his style, but getting to his films was tricky. French and German people had it considerably easier, but that wasn't much help to me. Tanaka's earliest films were mostly focused on refining his signature style, though that did start to wear a little thin over time. For Hold Up Down he revisited his collaboration with V6, a Japanese pop band, which is a telltale sign that his inspiration was wearing thin.

Hold Up Down is another one of Tanaka's fragmented comedy adventures. Various people cross each other's paths and they all get caught up in some weird, disjointed storyline, which flows freely and is steered by sheer randomness. He spreads his pop idols across the various subplots and by the end everything comes together, just don't expect it to make a whole lot of sense. The fun lies in the crazy ideas and standalone scenes, not so much in the way everything connects. It's not the most popular approach, yet it's what makes Tanaka's films stand out.

Two guys plan to rob a bank. They dress up as Santas, but when their cars get towed during the robbery it leaves them with giant Santa-shaped targets on their backs. They decide to stash away their loot and gear in a nearby metro station, but they don't have any coins on them to operate the lockers, so they rob a nearby street musician. He's a little slow to understand what is happening to him, but chasing the boys down he manages to get the key to their locker. An accident on the way to the police boot results in him swallowing the key, further complicating the situation.

screencap of Hold Up Down [Hôrudo Appu Daun]

Tanaka isn't the most visual director, but he does pay attention to the cinematography and often uses it to strengthen his dry sense of humor. The first half of the film is okay, but far from his best-looking work, with the focus more on the comedy and the actors. The film kicks up a gear during the final 30 minutes. It's not just the location that stands out, but also the lighting and camera work which help to create a lot of surplus atmosphere. It would've been nicer to see Tanaka go all the way from the start, but for a comedy, it does look considerably better than most of its peers.

With an entire boy band in the lead, it's almost a given that at least part of the score would be driven by the type of music they're known for. I'm not a big fan of J-Rock/Pop, and while I generally don't mind it when used in trailers or end credits, it takes a talented director to incorporate it into the actual film. The music isn't Tanaka's strong suit so it's no surprise that it ended up the poorest part of Hold Up Down. It's not so bad that it actively annoys, but at no point does it have a positive impact on the film. It's a good thing then that I'm a bit more forgiving when it comes to comedies.

I also feared for the performances. Tanaka usually has a slew of talented regulars, but they're mostly absent from this film. In their place, the six members of V6 are slotted in. It's obvious this film was an idol-led vehicle from conception, but Tanaka did well to include some over-the-top roles, meaning less pressure on the actual performances. The boys taking on more regular parts fall short, but the others fare relatively well. There are some cute cameos too, it's just a shame to see people like Susumu Terajima missing from the roster. All in all, it's not as bad as I'd feared though.

screencap of Hold Up Down [Hôrudo Appu Daun]

After a somewhat tepid start, the film picks up steam in the middle part. Once Tanaka introduces some of his trademark twists and turns there's a kind of reassurance that sinks in, a realization that this isn't just a lazy V6 promo. The plot is delightfully kooky and goofy and nearly impossible to predict, throwing its characters in all different directions, only to let them come together in one of the least likely of locations. There's order to the chaos though, and Tanaka is one of the best to keep a story like this on track, no matter how wonky it appears at first.

Top-tier Tanaka this is not, but it doesn't have to be for it to be a fun and wildly entertaining film. The comedy is spot on, the cinematography is solid, the film works up to a strong crescendo and there are some very memorable scenes scattered throughout. I'm not too surprised that none of the V6 guys ended up becoming world-renowned actors, but if that's the price you have to pay for one more comfy Tanaka film, it's an absolute bargain. Fans of Tanaka's work should seek this one out, others should get a bit more acquainted with the director first, but it's one of those films that is tough to dislike.