Psychiatric confinement reveals occasional laughs and painful self-doubts in the subdued Japanese dramedy, "Welcome to the Quiet Room."

Psychiatric confinement reveals occasional laughs and painful self-doubts in the subdued Japanese dramedy, “Welcome to the Quiet Room.” Based on director Matsuo Suzuki’s own novel, this Nipponese “Girl, Interrupted” has all the hallmarks of the rubber-room genre but intentionally lacks a razor edge. Less Zeitgeist-minded than his 2004 debut about manga fans (“Otakus in Love,” which played Venice), this may have trouble reserving space on the general fest circuit, though Asian-themed fests will keep it under observation. Pic maintained a resilient B.O. presence locally through October and November.

Story introduces hard-drinking, pill-popping magazine journalist Asuka Sakura (Yuki Uchida) amid the maelstrom of her deadline-driven life. After a brief dream sequence of the comely writer standing atop a mourning shrine in the desert, Asuka revives, under restraints, from a two-day coma in a psychiatric hospital’s “quiet room.” She has no memory of how she got there.

Post-titles, Asuka is told in the hospital that her b.f. — agitated, dope-smoking, reality TV host Tetsuo (Kudo Kankuro) — thought she had deliberately OD’d, and so had her committed. A visit by Tetsuo helps explain the precise circumstances of Asuka’s arrival, but despite his being more unhinged than she is, she’s kept in the hospital by her doctors, lest her “suicidal tendencies” resurface.

As per the rules of the genre, defiant Asuka is frustrated by the rules of the psycho ward. She finds herself aligned with — and sometimes exploited by — her fellow inmates, ranging from an ex-porn actress who runs the ward’s black market (Shinobu Otake) and an agoraphobic, anorexic piano prodigy (Mai Takahashi).

From the wide range of clothes worn by the patients, from traditional kimonos (which have enjoyed a recent resurgence in Japan) to punk and goth garb, the pic hints at also being a veiled portrayal of contemporary Nipponese womanhood. Script is a little too impressed with its own sense of humor to really let the drama breathe, but the narrative ticks along amiably enough.

Helming is solid, with flashes of invention. Suzuki, who’s also a well-known actor and playwright, handles his cast with indulgent compassion.

Uchida is charming as the confined Asuka, and holds attention even when the script lags. Female supports deliver some memorable turns, with Otake enjoyably chewing the scenery as manipulative marketer Nishino. Male thesps are less distinguished, though cult director Shinya Tsukamoto is impressively intense in a flashback as Asuka’s nerdy, late husband.

Tech credits enjoy a full bill of health.

Welcome to the Quiet Room

Japan

Production

A Welcome to the Quiet Room Film Partners presentation of an Asmik Ace Entertainment, Spoon, Otonakeikaku, Sony Music Entertainment (Japan), Sumitomo Corp. production. (International sales: Asmik Ace, Tokyo.) Produced by Shinji Ogawa, Takako Imamura, Naota Sugawara. Executive producers, Masao Teshima, Harunori Yamada, Makiko Nagasaka, Naoki Kitagawa, Seiichiro Morimoto. Directed, written by Matsuo Suzuki, based on his novel.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Akihiro Okabayashi; editor, Soichi Ueno; music, Hajime Moji, Takashi Mori; art director, Hiroyasu Koizum; sound (Dolby Digital), Tsuyoshi Sakado. Reviewed on DVD, Sydney, Nov. 22, 2007. Running time: 118 MIN.

With

Yuki Uchida, Kankuro Kudo, Yu Aoi, Ryo, Shinobu Otake, Shinya Tsukamoto, Satoshi Tsumabuko, Mai Takahashi.
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