月曜日, 2月 14, 2005

The Gentle Twelve

   Nostalgic for really funny comedies, and tired of not being able to find obscure American movies at the video store, I thought it would be a good idea to seek out the funniest Japanese comedies I could find. The Internet is full of lists of "funniest movies of all time" from the perspective of an English speaker, but the results of a search for 邦画 (Japanese movie) and 爆笑 ("explosive laughs") is rather sparse. However, Japan is not a comedy vacuum. I think the movie "Water Boys," about a boys' synchronized swimming team, is pretty funny. "Shimozuma Monogatari" seemed funny, although I had trouble understanding what the whole point of it was. What else is funny? Please comment if you have any recommendations.

    This week I watched a spoof comedy called 12人の優しい日本人. A parody of the 1957 American film "12 Angry Men", the title means "Twelve Nice Japanese People," or "The Gentle Twelve", which is the English title on the DVD case. Actually, the DVD has no English (or Japanese) subtitles and it seems it to have never been released outside Japan. It is directed by Nakahara Shun, who is known for "The Cherry Orchard".

    Since I had never seen the original "12 Angry Men," I decided to watch that first. In the original film, 11 of the 12 jurors are convinced at the outset that the defendant is guilty, and it takes Henry Fonda about 90 minutes to overcome their racism, class-based and generation-based prejudices enough to persuade them that he might be innocent.

    The Gentle 12 starts from the premise that the jury system is introduced in Japan. Instead of having 12 angry, opinionated people arguing, we have 12 nice, gentle people who believe from the beginning that the defendant is innocent. Then one young man, playing the Henry Fonda-like role, starts asking them to reconsider. The opening scenario is thus the opposite of 12 Angry Men.

   The Gentle Twelve preserves the tension and group dynamics of the original, with some amusing parallels and twists. The case itself, though, has been completely changed. Here is a summary of the scenario we are asked to consider.

    The defendant is a beautiful, 21-year old, divorced single mother who works as a supermarket cashier by day, a club hostess at night. On the night in question, she ordered a pizza for her 5-year old son and then went to meet her ex-husband, who was drunk. After drinking canned soda from a vending machine, they had a disagreement. A witness saw her and the ex-husband fighting in the street, and testified that she yelled "Shinjae!" ("Die!") and then pushed him in front of a truck. The truck driver honked his horn, but could not stop in time, hit the man and killed him instantly. The woman is now on trial for murder.

    The jury that is asked to consider this case is a motley crew of men and women of varying ages, each with their own personality quirks and behavior patterns. I particularly admired the acting of Juror 10, a woman who absolutely could not defend her point of view and was nonetheless obstinant until the end. All of the acting was pretty good. Some of the characters who got on my nerves in the beginning started to grow on me as time went on. Anyway, as a group they represent kind-hearted but indecisive ordinary people, and this can be seen in the very first scene when they have trouble deciding what drinks to order. From there on out you know it's going to be 優秀不断, folks.

   The only one who does not seem to be affected by indecisiveness is the young man who sets himself up to convince the others that she's guilty. To do that, he tries to get them to re-examine their assumptions and look at the case logically. There are several tense and amusing scenes with him arguing with another character, asking them why they believe the defendant to be innocent. They come up with a lot of ridiculous reasons, from "She bought her ex-husband a can of juice, so she must be a nice person." to "Feelings, I guess?" to "Because the chestnut told me so." ("Can chestnuts talk?" was the icy reply). In this dialogue, he is questioning a guy who believes the defendant's story over the witness'.

A 僕は、被告の話を信じるな。
B なぜですか?
A え?
B 被告は、21才で、美人で、スタイルもよく、証人の主婦は年まで太っていて、脂ぎってからですか?
A そう! (pointing his finger like a gun) 当たり。ピンポン!

A As for me, I just believe the defendant's testimony.
B Why?
A Huh?
B Is it because she's 21 years old, gorgeous and fashionable, and the witness is a fat, greasy old lady?
A Yes! That's right! You hit the nail on the head.

   Then there is the man who says 有罪でも、無罪だね ("Even if she's guilty, I'd vote innocent!") and laughs like it's a big joke. He later expounds that he believes the victim clearly deserved to die.

   At first I thought that it would follow the pattern of 12 Angry Men, with one juror convincing all the others. Therefore, I felt the film had a low point in the later middle when it seemed like no ground was being gained or lost. Actually, though, the outcome was different and well worth watching, surpassing my expectations. It had seemed to slow down because the tide was changing direction.

    I enjoyed the parallels with 12 Angry Men. In 12 Angry Men, the eyesight of one of the witnesses is called into question. In The Gentle 12, it is the witness' hearing that is disputed. She claims she heard the defendant shout "Die!" - Shinjae! However, she could have misheard her shout "Ginger Ale!" - Jinjaeru!

    In 12 Angry Men, the jurors automatically believe the witnesses, and it's a big revelation to them that witnesses could lie or be mistaken. In this movie, it was funny that the jurors discounted the witnesses' testimony immediately - "oh, of course they're lying!" Likewise, another big "revelation" of 12 Angry Men - that you might say "I'll kill you" and not really mean it - is again treated lightly by these characters. "'Die!' - I say that all the time, what does that prove?"

    In 12 Angry Men, the men don't identify themselves by name during the discussion, but a couple of them boast about their occupation. At the very end, as they're walking out of the courthouse, two of the jurors introduced themselves by name, and shake hands. The Gentle Twelve imitated this, with its own spin. As in the original, the jurors don't introduce themselves by name, and it comes out during the discussion that one of them is a bank employee and another is a lawyer. At the end, they leave the jury room two by two, and each pair has a short conversation where they say something real to each other, giving us a glimpse of their lives outside the jury room. The two jurors who made a special point of their professions inside the room both revealed that they were lying. The bank employee was really a dentist, and the lawyer confessed he is really an actor playing a lawyer. I liked that.

    I recommend this film if you're a fan of the original "12 Angry Men," or if you tend to like films that feature tense group dynamics taking place in a single room. As a comedy, it was a subtle social commentary with many funny scenes.


  • At 10:24 午前, Blogger homodachi said…

    One Amused Reader...

    Thanks for the review: I must see this! XD

  • At 12:37 午前, Blogger lovely-judy said…


  • At 2:49 午後, Blogger butterflyblue said…

    Hope you like it, Homodachi!
    I want to try to watch more Japanese comedies and post about them. Please tell me if you find any good ones, too.

    Judy, welcome to Blogger!



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