Koki Mitani is a well-established comedy director in Japan and the creator of hits like Welcome Back, Mr. McDonald (1991) and The Wow-Choten Hotel Galaxy (2006) And now, after exploring Japan’s past in The Kiyosu Conference (2013) and Japan’s possible future in Turnpike Koki (2015), Mitani offers a comical look into Japan’s political present. Like many of his previous narratives, his latest film features a large cast of charactersand offers a balanced mix of comical and heartwarming moments.
One night, Keisuke Kuroda (Kiichi Nakai) wakes up. Much to his surprise, he finds himself with a painful head in a hospital bed.Unable to remember who he is or how he ended up in there, he sneaks out of the hospital.People stare at him on the street, but Kuroda does not understand why. Even when he is attacked by an angry citizen about the consumption tax emptying his pockets, Kuroda fails to remember who he is. And then, he happens to see the news on TV and learns that he is the prime minister of Japan.
Hit me anyone One More Time is a narrative that exploits the psychoanalytic notion of the symbolic phallus in a comical but refined way. Keisuke Kuroda, due to his memory-erasing injury, has become a lacking subject, become radically castrated. His injury created a radical split between his current subjective position – a position devoid of the possibility to regain his former ego – and the symbolic position, a position supported by the fantasy of wielding the symbolic phallus, he is supposed to breathe life into.
Yet, Mitani‘s narrative quickly underlines that Kuroda never truly held the symbolic phallus as prime minister. The news that confronts him with his former ego and symbolic position as prime minister denotes him as the worst prime minister in history – his approval rates as abysmal – and reveals him as being verbally violent to his critics. The need for such verbal violence points to the fact that his symbolic power has lost its legitimacy and that he, in his violent attempt to prove that he has the symbolic phallus, is already radically castrated (Narra-note 1).
So, what is Kuroda’s entourage trying to protect? In our view, they want to protect nothing other than the façade that hides Kuroda’s castration – the radical castration he suffered by losing his memory should not be exposed to the public. Yet, as mentioned above, his castration, by merely resorting to verbal violence in public, is already an open secret. His entourage are, in other words, trying to keep the confirmation of the open secret hidden.
Does his entourage believe in his position of power, and do they actively still partake in the fantasy of him having the phallic object (Narra-note 2)? Strictly speaking, no. They remain loyal to the symbolic structure of politics and the symbolic position that was given to Kuroda, while realizing very well that he was, before as well as after the incident, someone who cannot hide his castration. No one understands the fact that Kuroda lacks the symbolic phallus better than his secretary Isaka (Dean Fujioka) by having an affair with Kuroda’s wife Satoko (Yuriko Ishida) (Narra-note 3).
Kuroda, for that matter, feels highly insecure in playing the role of the prime minister, the leader of the country. In his current state of castration – he is, in a sense, pure lack, he has no confidence in doing, in a satisfactory way, any of the duties he has by being subjected to the signifier prime minister.
Yet, his state of lack, a lack of memory and a lack of a phallic dynamic that dictated his comportment, creates an opportunity to rewrite his ego in such a way that he can become a radically different politician, become able to play in an effective way the phantasmatic phallic game, purify the rotten political system, and possibly regain the public right to wield the symbolic phallus to put Japan on track for the future (Narra-note 4). This memory loss also gives him a chance to act differently as husband and father and mend his empty-of-romance marital relationship and break the distance that exist between him and his estranged son.
Beyond offering a hopeful and idealistic dream for Japanese political in the future with Kuroda’s narrative, Koki’s Hit me anyone One More Time also touches upon certain problematic political realities. In fact, Koki’s narrative is full of references to small and big political dramas and scandals.Kuroda’s comportment before his injury can, in this respect, be seen as a condensation of past LDP prime ministers and many of his ‘transgressions’ (e.g. raising the consumption tax, abuse of parliamentary power, evading questioning, free trade agreements, … etc.) are unsubtle references to the Japanese political reality of recent years. Anyone who follows Japanese politics will have a satisfying time discovering the references. Yet, those without any interest in Japanese politics will feel a little bit lost in the narrative, not realizing all the elements of parody and satire.
The presence of such references gives Mitani’s hopeful and idealistic dream for Japanese politics a certain reality. In a sense, Mitani’s narrative is designed to confront Japanese politicians with the fact that they, in their search to satisfy their thirst for power, have lost what’s democratic politics is truly about. Yet, while Mitani’s idealistic message will resonated with the audience, his narrative will ultimately fail to change politics – politicians are too busy playing the games of power to truly hear the message Mitani wants to convey.
The composition of Hit me anyone One More Time stand out due to its dynamism, the subtle forms (i.e. temperate spatial movement) as well as more obvious forms of dynamism (i.e. the tracking movements). This dynamism gives a pleasant flow to the comical exploration of the ins and outs of the political system and makes the narrative easily digestible. The lighthearted atmosphere of the narrative, while supported by the performances, is accentuates by the lighthearted musical accompaniment. Mitani’s refusal to depend on over-acting, in this respect, works well to emphasize the truthfulness of what is being exposed of Japanese political – i.e. Japanese politics being merely a game of power with the public ultimately as victim.
Hit me anyone One More Time is a truly pleasant film that will please a lot of spectators. Yet, Mitani’s narrative does not offer a kind of satire that is so biting that it creates plenty of moments that are as painfully as they are hilarious. What he offers instead is a lighthearted narrative that expresses a (vain?) hope for a more thoughtful form of Japanese politics.
Narra-note 1: The phallic preoccupation of Kuroda is lightheartedly revealed by his ‘favourite meal’: a chocolate banana on a stick. At least while eating this banana, he can be sure, for a short while, to wield the phallus.
The commemorative decorations in his room are also subtle indications of his preoccupation with such phallic fantasy. These pictures and other ornaments have no other function than to re-assure him that he still occupies his beloved phallic position.
Narra-note 2: It needs to be said thatthe Chief Cabinet Secretary, Tsurumaru (Masao Kusakari), the head figure of Kuroda’s cabinet, is, in fact, the one who holds real power, the one who, by receiving his symbolic mandate from the prime minister, wields the symbolic phallus. He has, in contrast to Kuroda, a high approval rate, partially by comically revealing that he shares the sentiments of the angry public.
Narra-note 3: By having an affair with his wife, Isaka knows that Satoko does not desire Kuroda not anymore and Kuroda, for his wife, has lost his phallic worth. Isaka furthermore fully realizes Kuroda’s incompetence and aims to use his position as secretary to control and manipulate him.
Congresswoman Yamanishi (Yo Yoshida) from one of the opposing parties, for that matter, can be characterized as a woman who attempts to exploit Kuroda’s phallic preoccupation. She acts as if he has the phallus to manipulate him into giving her more political power.
Narra-note 4: To play the phantasmatic phallic game or the game of the phallic sleight in an effective way means that Kuroda avoids becoming the dupe of those power-hungry people that surround him and becomes able to truly wield his ‘phallic’ political power, not for his own benefit, but for the benefit of the people.