×

Tokyo: ‘Hibana-Spark’ Aims to Ignite Friction, Not Just Fun

The world of Japanese comedy hasn’t often been the topic of feature films in Japan but Naoki Matayoshi’s Akutagawa-prize winning novel “Hibana-Spark” has spurred both a 10-part Netflix TV series last year and a feature film this annum. Matayoshi is himself a comedian and the film “Spark” bowed at the Kyoto International Film Festival on October 15. It is on offer at TIFFCOM, the rights market that accompanies the Tokyo International Film Festival.

Yoshimoto Creative Agency oversaw the production. That is fitting as parent company Yoshimoto Kogyo is the leading comedy agency in Japan, and Itsuji Itao, the comedian/actor/director it represents, directed the effort.

The story follows two manzai comedians, the younger Tokunaga (Masaki Suda) and the older Kamiya (Kenta Kiritani), as they struggle to become successful. Tokunaga sees Kamiya’s edgy routines and immediately pledges to be his dedicated student, which is a tad unusual because the manzai form is duo comedy but both have other comedians that they perform with. The piece tracks the relationship of Tokunaga and Kamiya for 10 years, long enough to figure out they will not hit the big time as performers. It outlines their trials and humiliations on minor entertainment circuits, and Kamiya’s mercurial approach to life.

Itao, a quite successful funnyman, made the film in part to offer advice to younger comics. “Through the film I wanted to communicate with young comedians. They know that they are funny, but to actually make people laugh you need to think about how to convey your ideas, you need to think about the setting, the character and the tone. Those things must be considered,” he said.

Popular on Variety

Perversely, though the film contains several amusing routines, the overall tone is somewhat heavy. “This is a film about comedians, but it’s not a comedy. It’s not a tragedy, but I intended a sad or somewhat depressive atmosphere. I wanted to make an normal coming-of-age drama about comedians.”

Powerhouse Japanese studio, Toho is handling the Japanese release on Nov. 23 and the international sales outside Asia. “’Spark’ deals with manzai, which is a Japanese comedy style, and is probably hard to understand for international buyers. Thus we put an explanation of manzai at the beginning of the movie for sales reference,” said Yusuke Kikuchi, international sales manager, of the strategy to get it to theaters worldwide. “And we put more focus on the movie itself, not the manzai style. Actually this movie has a very universal message that conveys the struggle and growth in youthful days.”

Miyuki Takamatsu of Free Stone Productions, who is handling the Asian sales, says the sales pitch is different within Asia. “(The appeal of the film for Asia) is in the power of the original novel.” She adds: “Asians tend to share a sensitivity toward drama about young guys and poor guys with a sense of comedy.”

More Film

  • Kajillionaire

    'Kajillionaire': Film Review

    The world is a weird place. Miranda July knows that, but the rest of us sometimes forget. Or maybe we just don’t want to admit how bizarre it is that society more or less agrees that back rubs and hot tubs and flavored chips and McRibs are an appropriate reward for a bazillion years of [...]

  • Stellan Skarsgard

    Göteborg Listens to Stellan according to Skarsgård

    GÖTEBORG, Sweden — Laughs were aplenty at the Stora Theatern, where Göteborg Film Festival artistic director Jonas Holmberg welcomed the recipient of the Nordic Honorary Dragon Award, fresh off his Golden Globe win for HBO’s “Chernobyl”. “It wasn’t planned. I thought that will be my only award this year, that’s why I said yes!” – joked Skarsgård, [...]

  • Promising Young Woman

    'Promising Young Woman': Film Review

    Given that the entertainment industry is pretty much the center of the #MeToo universe in terms of generating its most public effects — and, needless to say, causes — probably no Sundance film this year will be as hot a conversation topic as “Promising Young Woman.” Emerald Fennell’s first directorial feature is a female revenge [...]

  • Little Women Movie

    'Little Women,' 'Fleabag' Win USC Scripter Awards

    Greta Gerwig’s script for “Little Women” has won the USC Libraries Scripter Award for best movie adaptation and “Fleabag” has taken the television award. The winners were announced Saturday night at USC’s Edward L. Doheny Jr. Memorial Library. “Little Women” topped “Dark Waters,” “The Irishman,” “Jojo Rabbit,” and “The Two Popes.” All but environmental drama [...]

  • Four Good Days

    'Four Good Days': Film Review

    Addiction, you could say (and I would), has become the central demon that plagues Americans. We’re addicted to everything: alcohol, illegal drugs, pharmaceutical drugs, psychotropic drugs, sugar-bomb soft drinks, processed food, video screens…you name it. In theory, addiction was made for drama, because it rips up the fabric of people’s lives, and that’s intensely dramatic. [...]

  • Netflix backed animated films “Klaus,” left,

    'Klaus,' 'I Lost My Body' Top 47th Annie Awards as Netflix Dominates

    Netflix dominated the 47th Annie Awards on Saturday, Jan. 25, picking up 19 trophies, including the top prizes of best feature (“Klaus”), best feature-independent (“I Lost My Body”), best TV/media production for preschool children (“Ask the Storybots”) and best general audience TV/media production (“BoJack Horseman”). Disney TV Animation’s “Disney Mickey Mouse” won best TV/media production [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content