Hiroyuki Tanaka is a very big favorite of mine. Largely unknown in the West (unless you're part of a privileged fest crowd), Tanaka is a director with plenty of commercial appeal who failed to ride the (somewhat random) wave of popularity that many other Asian films enjoyed in the early years of the new millennium. If you want a taste of what he is capable of, Monday is probably one of the best and most entertaining entry points.
There are still plenty of films out there that lack a proper English-friendly release (take Mirrored Mind, Angel's Egg) but in those cases I can at least sympathize with the financial risk of releasing such films over here. Even though Monday isn't without its share of absurdity and typical Japanese content, the film as a whole isn't that hard to stomach for people not completely immersed in Japanese culture.
Monday is the perfect showcase of Tanaka's usual traits. A grand mix of strong storytelling, refreshing comedy, perfect timing, upbeat music and a touch of the absurd. The film consists of only 8 or 9 scenes in total, each of them somehow locked in their own little universe (some could even work as stand-alone short films), tied together by the memories of Takagi. The film begins when the unfortunate man wakes up in an unfamiliar hotel room. Half asleep and still startled by his surroundings he searches his pockets for clues.
He finds a small packet that slowly refreshes his memory and little by little we find out what happened to Takagi. The first half of the film follows Takagi when he pastes together his journey of how he got to the hotel room, the second half of the film sees Takagi trying to escape from the mess he got himself into. Things get quite absurd near the end, but by that time you should be swallowing just about everything Tanaka throws at you.
Visually Tanaka differentiates himself with stylish camera work and very sharp editing skills. The editing in particular is crucial to some of the funnier moments in the film. The scenery can be a bit bland at times and the colors a bit drab, but seen as a whole Monday is still a rather attractive film to look at, with Tanaka clearly in control of the visual direction.
Even though the soundtrack is filled with tracks that normally don't really enjoy my appreciation, the way Tanaka applies them is nothing less than sublime. It's hard to keep yourself from tapping along to some of the tunes, the dance scene in particular is a perfect blend of superb sound editing and comedy. The music lends the film a very enjoyable, upbeat atmosphere that actually dictates the flow of several scenes. Just the way I like my soundtracks and another splendid example that you don't necessarily have to like the actual music to appreciate a film's soundtrack.
The acting too is pleasantly strong. Tanaka makes good use of Shin'ichi Tsutsumi's (a Tanaka regular) comedic talent, whose facial expressions and body language are neigh perfect in just about every scene. Tsutsumi is aided by an impressive list of supporting roles too. Nao Omori, Ren Osugi and Susumu Terajima are the most notable additions, the last one in particular is always eager to showcase his strength as a supporting actor. It's a shame Terajima doesn't get more screen time here, then again Tanaka would redeem himself by giving Terajima the lead role in Blessing Bell.
Timing. Monday is all about timing. The jokes themselves may not be all that original or even funny, the timing and editing make it into something truly special (the apple juice joke is a perfect example - also my personal favorite - even though I know it by heart it still gets me every time I watch the film). Monday is without a doubt my number one comedy (that is, excluding the completely absurd - Symbol, the offensive - Visitor Q and the juvenile - Dead Leaves for a minute) and a film that doesn't bore even after repeating viewings. On the contrary, it only seems to grow with each consecutive screening.
Monday is entertainment in the purest sense of the word. It exists within a field of perfect feel-good and pleasantly upbeat atmospheres, even the darker ending can't do anything to take away from that overarching joyous feeling. The film consists of nothing but memorable scenes, contains some genuinely laugh out loud funny moments and slaps on a stylish finish to make the package complete. It's not my favorite Tanaka film (Blessing Bell is), but it's definitely one of Tanaka's brightest gems that deserves a much (much!) broader audience. If you ever get the chance to see this film with English subtitles, don't miss that opportunity as Monday is sure to deliver.