'Slapstick Brothers'

The ostensibly separate worlds of street crime and standup comedy intertwine in Hiroshi Shinagawa's engaging sophomore effort, "Slapstick Brothers."

The ostensibly separate worlds of street crime and standup comedy intertwine in Hiroshi Shinagawa’s engaging sophomore effort, “Slapstick Brothers.” Following his hit adaptation of his own manga smash “Drop,” author-comedian-cum-helmer Shinagawa builds on his first film’s young-gangland milieu but adds a selfish comedian who won’t grow up. Funnier for Japanese auds than for subtitle readers, pic nevertheless has an appealing wit, garnished with a mature wisdom. Although no headliner, “Slapstick Brothers” was a steady local performer last March, earning a respectable $8.7 million. Its audience-award win at Korea’s PiFan fest suggests opportunities for wider pan-Asian success.

Standup comedian Tobio (Ryuta Sato) learns that his partner, Tamotsu (Yuji Ayabe), is walking out of their double act after 10 years. Going on a drunken spree, Tobio awakens next morning in a prison cell with dreadlocked, tattooed, smart-mouthed young hoodlum Ryuhei (Yusuke Kamiji). Always the opportunist, straightlaced Tobio recognizes Ryuhei’s aggressive — and funny — street talk is a perfect fit for the jousting Japanese comedy style known as “manzai.” Though more comfortable working with his fists than his mouth, Ryuhei agrees to become trained as a comic.

On the outside, Ryuhei’s gangland nemesis Shirokawa (Hirofumi Arai) won’t let the fledgling comedian walk away without settling a few scores first. At the same time, Tobio discovers that training an amateur — particularly one as volatile as his new charge — is not always a laughing matter.

Shinagawa’s script skillfully weaves together the comic and the criminal, displaying a convincing familiarity with both worlds. The helmer maintains a firm hand, always honoring his story and avoiding the common J-comedy pitfall of unraveling into chaos in the final reels. Fight scenes, orchestrated by Yuta Morokaji, have a dynamic edge, while the helmer balances the comedic and dramatic scenes so that neither side is a drag on the narrative rhythms.

Kamiji is sympathetic and forceful as the punk ready to leave the violence of the near-pointless turf wars. In a more realistic vein, Sato is likewise proficient with the somewhat tougher role of a man confronted with less spectacular personal shortcomings. Embodying the pic’s mix of comedy and crime, Daisuke Miyagawa is droll as the jaded yakuza supportive of Ryuhei’s career change.

Tech credits are solid.

Slapstick Brothers

Japan

Production

A Kadokawa Pictures production. (International sales: Kadokawa Pictures, Tokyo.) Produced by Shigeo Minakami. Directed, written by Hiroshi Shinagawa.

Crew

Camera (color, HD), Nobuyasu Kita; editor, Hiroshi Sunaga; music, Toru Wada; art director, Naoki Soma; sound (Dolby Digital), Hiroshi Tsurumaki; action director, Yuta Morokaji. Reviewed on DVD, Bucheon, South Korea, July 17, 2011. (In PiFan Film Festival -- Puchon Choice, competing.) Running time: 137 MIN.

With

Ryuta Sato, Yusuke Kamiji, Satomi Ishihara, Yuji Ayabe, Daisuke Miyagawa, Hirofumi Arai, Seiki Nagahara, Ryuji Akiyama, Takashi Sasano, Miyuki Oshima.

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