The hidden gems of Japanese cinema are very hard to track down (unless maybe if you speak Japanese). There's a huge range of films that lived a very short life on film fests and completely failed to find their way to the rest of the world afterwards. No English-friendly DVDs, no theater releases, no nothing. Running into these films is a true delight, so you might imagine how I felt when I sat down to watch Getting Wild With Our Monkey [Kemonogare Orera no Saru To]. A true modern punk classic.
Sunaga's Getting Wild With Our Monkey is a novel adaptation originally written by Kou Machida, who you might still remember from Sogo Ishii's Burst City. His punk background is found in every pore of this film, proving quite a trial for people expecting and demanding a simple A to B story. Getting Wild With Our Monkey goes nowhere in particular, doesn't even have a proper ending and leaves so many threads open you might be wondering if it's not just a collection of sketches. It's all about the journey though, not about getting somewhere. If you can't stomach that, it's better to just avoid this film altogether and find something else to watch.
The first hour or so is still somewhat coherent, though already filled to the brim with random weirdness. We follow a young writer facing writer's block. Machida (the main character) is obviously in a slump and seems unable to recover from it. Until one day a film producer shows up on his doorstep, offering him a job as scriptwriter. The only condition is that he visits the three primary settings of said film. Machida accepts, not knowing what he is getting himself into.
From there on the film pretty much goes haywire. The road trip forms a loose connection between several scenes and by the time the films reaches its blistering finale the whole idea and concept seem somehow lost, forcing Sunaga to just go with the flow of the final scene. A bit like Sabu does in his films (Drive, Monday), but taken to its extreme. It's 100% punk idealism translated to film, an acquired taste no doubt, but I loved it just the same.
One thing is certain though, the visual style Sunaga applies fits as a fiddle. Fish-eye lenses, crisp hyper-editing, dark color toning ... the works. The film looks and feels amazing and makes the somewhat outlandish characters and settings feel acceptable. Its beauty is hard to capture in single shots, but when edited together it all comes together rather wonderfully.
The soundtrack is just as cool. Crazy, somewhat experimental music which is well-integrated with the visuals. It grants the film some extra freak (not that it didn't have plenty already, but why do a half-assed job right?) and goes an extra step to alienate unsuspecting audiences. It's not as loud or hardcore punk as you might expect, but still pretty out there.
The acting is all-the-way over-the-top Japanese comedy play, with Nagase being his cool self once again. He plays a total loser alright, but still a very cool loser. Definitely an actor that deserves more praise outside the Japanese borders and who deserves a spot next to Tadanobu Asano and Jo Odagiri. The rest of the cast is pretty funny too, though none of them really venture outside the cartooney appearance of their characters. Still, they do a very good job nonetheless.
Getting Wild With Our Monkey is a seriously demented, yet absolutely fun trip. A film that needs to be experienced rather than understood. The adventures of Machida are simply hilarious and the deeper he falls, the stranger the people and events he encounters. The finale is pure punk absurdism with a serious dash of humor to finish it off. It leaves you with a lot of questions and no resolution at all for the main character, but at that point it hardly seemed to matter anymore.
Whether you'll appreciate a film like Getting Wild With Our Monkey is highly dependent on how hard you'll find it to accept the film's structure and lack of coherence. If you want a rewarding ending than there might not be much here, but if you can value a scene for going where the film's internal rhythm takes it, then Sunaga's film is truly one of the best out there.
A film filled with weirdness, humor and strange characters, sporting a great soundtrack and plenty of visual prowess. And somehow nobody seems interested in getting this film out to the West. I understand that stuff like this is not meant for broad audiences and releasing a film like this is quite a gamble, but there's plenty here for a solid cult following. A lovely little surprise that deserves a loving audience. Don't miss this if you ever get the chance to watch it.