Following her international breakthrough in 2017 with “Tremble All You Want,” Akiko Ohku became known for quirky comedies about a single woman’s search for love. And she had a populist touch: “Tremble All You Want,” which starred Mayu Matsuoka as a nerdy office worker obsessed with her junior high school crush, and the 2020 rom-com “Hold Me Back,” which features Rena Nonen (better known as Non) as an office clerk who gets romantic advice from a voice in her head, both won audience awards at the Tokyo International Film Festival.
Ohku’s new film, the perky nuptial disaster comedy “Wedding High” — scripted by comic Hidetomo Masuno, aka Bakarhythm — represents a change in direction if not her aim to entertain: Unlike the above-mentioned films, it is an ensemble piece, with the ostensible star, TV drama veteran Ryoko Shinohara, not taking center stage until nearly 40 minutes in.
Shinohara plays Maho Nakagoshi, a spark plug of a wedding planner who loves her job. Both she and her staff are dedicated to giving newlyweds the ideal wedding, even when their clients are driving them nuts with impossible demands. In this respect, “Wedding High” resembles the many Japanese movies in which a team unites to earnestly overcome obstacles, while delivering a collective shoutout to the organization men (and women) in the audience.
|Rating||out of 5|
|Run Time||117 mins.|
The film differs in being light on its feet and even laugh-out-loud funny, though to understand the gags it helps to have experienced (or suffered through) a typical Japanese wedding reception, which has elements from both the West (cutting the cake) and Japan (the couple’s bosses each giving speeches).
This story, however, begins with the central pair, Haruka Nitta (Nagisa Sekimizu) and Akihito Ishikawa (Tomoya Nakamura), planning their big event. The myriad decisions to be made excite Haruka, but bore Akihito, though he wisely never shows it. We also get a quick glance at their respective pasts, including Haruka’s long-time relationship with a former college classmate, Yuya (Takanori Iwata), which ended abruptly.
In the fraught process of deciding who to invite, Yuya is excluded, as might be expected. When he hears about the wedding, he decides to crash it, with the assistance of two happy-go-lucky buddies.
Finally, the reception gets underway, but the lengthy albeit hilarious (to the guests) speeches by the couple’s respective bosses result in the program running an hour behind schedule. How can Maho and her colleagues miraculously make up the lost time?
Their solutions have a crazed brilliance born of desperation, and are staged with brio and wit, although the slapstick comedy of Yuya’s encounter with a wedding gift thief uses gross-out humor for its payoff laughs. Having seen my share of Japanese TV variety shows, where said humor abounds, I was more inclined to groan.
Even so, with Shinohara’s relatably frazzled performance as Maho serving as ballast, the film stays firmly grounded in the real-world agonies and ecstasies of Japanese-style weddings. In fact, it is instructive viewing for both aspiring wedding planners and future wedding participants.
Lesson one: When your intended asks for your opinion on anything wedding related, “I’ll leave it up to you” is the wrong answer. And ex-lovers had better drop any fantasies of changing the bride or groom’s mind at the altar. “The Graduate,” which “Wedding High” references but does not imitate, was only a movie.
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