Keeping up to date with Asian directors isn't always as easy as it should be. Quite often a film gets released without a proper subtitles selection and a hole pops up in the director's oeuvre. You forget about the film and that's that. From time to time though, a chance pops up to fill those holes. Enter The Insects Unlisted in the Encyclopedia [Zukan ni Nottenai Mushi], one of the last remaining Satoshi Miki films on my menu.
Satoshi Miki (Instant Numa, Turtles Are Surprisingly Fast Swimmers, Adrift in Tokyo) is a personal favorite. He hasn't made any life-changing masterpieces yet, but the quality of his output is frighteningly consistent. I've liked every single one of his films so far, which means that I had quite some expectations when I sat down to watch The Insects Unlisted in the Encyclopedia. Of course Miki didn't disappoint, if you're looking for a goofy yet understated comedy and you can handle a healthy dose of Japanese weirdness, this film comes warmly recommended.
The setup of the film is pretty simple and little more than a hook for the comedy bits to latch onto. A freelance editor (Na) is sent on a quest to write an article on Deathfix, a legendary drug that is rumoured to let you slip into the realm of the death, only to kick you out again a couple of minutes later. The only lead Na has is Mashima's trail, another reporter that went on the same quest but never returned. Soon enough Na realizes he's not the only one looking for the drug.
Along the way Na picks up a couple of friends, until finally they've become a troupe of five. There isn't too much progression storywise, it's basically a road trip where every new character they meet is an opportunity for a little weirdness and fun, but that doesn't mean the film doesn't work up to a proper finale. In between the cracks, Miki smuggles in enough warmth and humanity and over time that pays off rather well.
Miki's films aren't visual masterpieces, but they definitely have aesthetic value that complements its functional qualities. Some of the effects may be cheap-looking (though you could argue that they do enhance the comedy), but apart from that there are some genuinely beautiful shots, good to great lighting and some pretty cool camera work. The styling is meticulous, from interiors to wardrobe and it all gels together to become a visually attractive film.
The soundtrack is mostly functional. I even had to check back to see if I had maybe missed some tracks along the way. There are some very typical choices (night club = jazzy) complemented by mostly rock-based music. It's a very anonymous selection of tracks that adds little to nothing to the film, then again for a comedy it isn't that much of a problem. Still, a soundtrack can also be used for comedy purposes, so in that way it remains a missed opportunity.
The cast is something else though. Yusuke Iseya is a very solid lead, but the supporting actors are really something else. Suzuki Matsuo is amazing as always (and he has a sizeable part), Rinko Kikuchi makes a very notable appearance and Ryo Iwamatsu does a splendid job playing the local Yakuza crook. Then there are superb cameos of Yutaka Matsushige, Sion Sono (the very one) and Yoshiyuki Morishita. There are no weak links here, everyone is clearly in on the joke and even the smallest role adds to the overall fun of the film.
Even though The Insects Unlisted in the Encyclopedia works up to a somewhat coherent conclusion, the story itself makes very little sense, often deliberately so. Miki is making a comedy and isn't going to let something as trivial as plot stand in the way of a good joke. So as Na gets closer to finding out the truth about the Deathfix drug, people disappear and reappear whenever needed, helping the story forward, but almost never in the way that you suspected.
Miki has a very peculiar sense of humor. The jokes can be pretty absurd and out there, but the delivery is always deadpan. Because of this, there's an element of surprise that keeps you on your toes. If you don't appreciate it there's little sense in watching his films, as everything is built around it, but if you don't mind a little absurdity mixed with a deadpan delivery than Miki's films are comedy gold. The Insects Unlisted in the Encyclopedia is no different and a very worthy addition to Miki's oeuvre. Not that I expected anything else.