While some might find Yosuke Fujita’s oeuvre somewhat barren – less than five movies since his debut feature Tora (1986), he still succeeded in making two highly internationally respected Japanese dramedies. The first one was Fine, Totally Fine in 2008, and the second one was Fuku-chan of Fukufuku Flats in 2014.
Tatsuo Fukuda, nicknamed Fuku-chan (Miyuki Oshima), lives a rather undisturbed life in a rather run-down apartment complex called Fukufuku Flats – either mediating disputes between other denizens of Fukufuku Flats or crafts kites to fly with on his days off. He likes his work as building-painter, but often gets irritated by his co-worker and friend Shimacchi (YoshiYoshi Arakawa), who not only likes to tease other co-workers but also keeps urging Fuku-chan to start dating.
One day, Shimacchi and his girlfriend Yoshimi (Mei Kurokawa) organizes, without Fuku-chan knowing a thing, a sort of blind-date for him Katsuko Kasahara (Maho Yamada) at his flat. While Fuku-chan is interested in her, he refuses to utter a word to her and squanders his chances with her. Not that much later, a beautiful woman, Chiho Sugiura (Asami Mizukawa), turns up at Fukufuku Flats to apologize for something that happened in the past.
It is evident, from the opening moments of the narrative, that Fuku-chan feels a certain restraint when it comes to romantic affairs and dating. His avoidance to enter the game of romance – be it by remaining silent at the blind-date or by inviting his neighbors to what supposed to be a double-date – and the anger he expresses when his friend forces him into the game of romance clearly implies that he wants to avoid something from happening.
But can we not interpret this a little bit further? Is he not, as a matter of fact, caught up in the psychological dynamic of avoiding his feared reality of being deceived in romance while silently hoping or believing that success is possible? Is it not evident that behind his fear of the image of woman as a deceiver lies a desire to engage in romance and a hope that a woman who does not deceive in love truly exists? The question that underpins Fuku-chan’s trajectory is: how can he ever become sure that a woman he is in love with is not deceiving him?
Chiho, after receiving an award by her favourite photographer Hisashi Numakura (Toshiyuki Kitami), gives up her job and accepts his invitation to teach her in photography. While his teaching seems genuine at first, focused on enabling her to become “someone who can find god in puke is an artist”, someone who is able to find artistic beauty in foul ugliness, it quickly becomes apparent that he, under the pretense of teaching wants, to get into her pants. Totally distraught by this event, a chance encounter with the female owner coffee-shop leads her to believe that she is now paying karma with her own pain for hurting someone in the past. It is to stop this ‘karma-dynamic’ that she decides to apologize to him. But the encounter with him might have more positive effects for Chiho than she could have hoped for.
Fuku-chan of Fukufuku Flats is not only a narrative that explores in a touching and heartwarming way the importance of friendship and trust, the dangers of bullying, and the far-reaching subjective effects the act of bullying can have on the bullied, but also the seductive and deceiving potential of compliments – statements that pleasing the ego of the other subject – and, above all, love’s inherent power, i.e. love as something that can, against all odds, easily take hold of a subject desiring for romance. Romance is, as a matter of fact, revealed in the narrative as ever being inherently marked by insecurity – does she love me? Does she mean what she says? Is her compliment truly a sign of love or merely an empty gesture of friendliness?
Fuku-chan of Fukufuku Flats is, for the greater part, composed with a concatenation of static shots (Cine-note 1). While some might contend that such kind of composition is too plain, Fujita’s reliance on static shots to construct his narrative allows him to deliver certain visual puns in a more powerful and effective way as well as strengthen the subtle lightheartedness – a lightheartedness expressed via facial expressions as well as via the speech itself – that marks many conversational interactions and social situations (like the sequence where Minoru Ushijima (Yuki Tokunaga) shows off his Enka skills).
Nevertheless, the beauty of the narrative does not reside in in the subtle lightheartedness – a lightheartedness that successfully generates smiles from the spectator, that is kept lingering throughout the narrative, but in the contrast between this lightheartedness and two dramatic elements, i.e. the sexual assault of Chiho and, more importantly, the adolescent trauma of Fuku-chan. It is, as a matter of fact, only by successfully infusing such heartfelt drama into the narrative that Fuku-chan of Fukufuku Flats can become such a heartwarming and moving dramedy.
Fuku-chan of Fukufuku Flats is a great narrative. Fujita balances drama and lightheartedness in such a pleasing way that the spectator has no other choice than to care for the main characters. With his low-key dramedy, one will laugh, one will tear up, but above all, one will come to understand that matters of romance always require a leap of faith.
Cine-note 1: Tracking shots and spatial moving shots are sparingly