Japanese comedy is somewhat of an acquired taste. It's a little weird, it's a little quirky, it catches you by surprise. Satoshi Miki is one of the most skillful comedy directors in Japan, sadly it's not all that easy to get a hold of his films. In the Pool [In Za Puru] was the very first feature he directed and it turned out to be a perfect harbinger of his talents. It's been at least 10 years since I last watched it though, a good time to reacquaint myself with Miki's earliest work.
So far Satoshi Miki's films have been very consistent. He has a peculiar and particular sense of humor that forms the core of every film he's directed. In each of his films Miki plays around with balance, as he highlights different elements within his trademark style, but his work always feels familiar and recognizable. In that sense, In The Pool is a very good film to get acquainted with Miki, as it already holds everything that makes his films worth watching. And whatever In the Pool lacks in refinement, it makes up for with sheer enthusiasm.
While Miki's films aren't completely void of drama, comedy always comes first. It's not all that simple to capture Miki's exact blend of upbeat, absurd and melancholy, but his films are always compassionate, colorful and well-intended. He avoids mean-spirited and/or edgy vibes, instead he aims for surprising puns, original trains of thought and random oddbal side stories. There's an overall pleasantness to his films that almost make them feel like a mini-vacations.
The plot of In the Pool revolves around three separate individuals who are each dealing with severe emotional strain. Tetsuya is suffering from a constant erection, Suzumi is battling her obsessive-compulsive disorder and Kazuo is getting more and more stressed as he's unable to execute his hobby. They're seeking help from Ichiro, an eccentric psychiatrist who may just be the strangest of them all. Even so, his unusual techniques seem to be quite effective.
Satoshi Miki isn't the greatest visual talent out there, but he always makes an effort. This being his first film though, it's kind of clear that he was still learning the tricks of the trade. Colors look a bit dim, backgrounds appear a little empty and the camera work can sometimes draw a little too much attention to itself, without any kind of obvious payoff. Even so, Miki plays around with symmetry, looks for interesting camera angles and tries to keep things playful. It's definitely not top of its class, but for a comedy it looks pretty decent.
The soundtrack is less interesting, mostly because it's pretty much negligible. Some very simple tunes are scattered throughout, aiming for an upbeat and positive atmosphere while drawing as little attention to themselves as possible. In that sense the soundtrack does succeed in what it set out to do, but there's just a lot of wasted potential. Rarely does a comedy depend on a good soundtrack of course, on the other hand music and sound can be a comic goldmine when used appropriately.
Joe Odagiri, Miwako Ichikawa and Seiichi Tanabe are all great in their roles as patients, but it's Suzuki Matsuo who really steals the show here. So much in fact that despite all of Miki's efforts, In the Pool is in some ways Matsuo's film. His version of the doctor is just completely and utterly bonkers. He's weird, adorable, quirky, funny, creepy and more, all at the same time. His level of energy simply jumps through the roof and without him the film just wouldn't have been the same.
Comedy is a very personal experience of course, even so I feel In the Pool is fairly easy to recommend. It may stray a little too much for some, it may come off a little random and detached for others, but there's plenty of genuine comedy and heartfelt joy present here. It's not the kind of film that would offend or shock and unless you're really attached to a well-rounded and neatly contained plot, it's difficult to imagine In the Pool would end up boring people.
It really is the perfect introduction to the world of Satoshi Miki. In the Pool is a pretty short film that does well highlighting Miki's unique brand of comedy. There's plenty of variation comedy-wise, Miki keeps it visually interesting and Suzuki Matsuo is a true sight to behold. The result is a very pleasant film with plenty of rewatch value. Now, actually getting your hands on it might be a bit of a challenge, but the reward makes it worth the trouble.