Review for Zokki
You wait for one surreal Japanese anthology comedy, and three turn up at once. Isn’t that always the way. Last month, Third Window Films brought us the Funky Forest/Warped Forest twin-pack, and this month they bring us Zokki. I was really in the mood for this genre of film, but the twin Forests didn’t quite hit the spot for me. Naturally, this now has me approaching Zokki with more trepidation than it deserves. I may still want something to match my Holy Grail of the genre, Survive Style 5+, but I’m no longer hopeful. Still, Zokki does come from the pen of mangaka Hiroyuki Onashi, creator of the critically acclaimed On-Gaku. But it turns out that they’re at the start of their manga career, and there’s not a lot else out there to give me an idea of what to expect.
An old man tells his granddaughter how he’s lived a long life, by having some secrets to keep. A man decides one day to change his life, to just get on his bike and ride aimlessly, wherever his pedals take him, living on the road. Two outcasts in high school bond during detention, with one obsessed with the other’s older sister. A father takes his young son with him one night to break into his old school; only there’s something there waiting for them. And one man’s lonely routine working at a video store is interrupted by a certain customer.
Zokki gets a 1.85:1 widescreen 1080p transfer on this disc, with a DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround Japanese track with optional English subtitles. The image is clear and sharp, although colours feel a little washed out. Detail levels are good, and the cinematography is of a high enough quality that you wish that Zokki had actually been shot on film. It’s a decent enough watch, but you can’t get away from the digital production values. The audio is fine, dialogue clear and the subtitles accurately timed and free of typos. This isn’t the most surround intensive film, and the volume levels are a smidge low, but the film is immersive enough for its light comedy drama, and the eclectic music is sparsely, but effectively used.
The disc boots to an animated menu, and you’ll find the following extras.
Interview with Directors Takumi Saitoh, Naoto Takenaka, and Takayuki Yamada (20:19)
Behind the Scenes (22:54)
I had a better time watching Zokki, although it didn’t quite jolt me out of my resigned complacency during its runtime. For me, the Forest duology overcooked its surreal aspects, delving into Cronenbergian imagery, which kept it at a remove. Zokki feels set in the real world, which makes it easier to relate to, and engage with the characters and what they experience. Also, the various stories in this anthology movie are connected to varying degrees, either by sheer coincidence, or by loose narrative and character proximity. There are the odd random, scattershot moments in the film, like the brief high school romance that ends painfully, but as a whole, the film hangs together really well.
It doesn’t get too surreal either, just enough to tinge the stories with humour without getting too strange, although it wouldn’t be a genre film if things didn’t get seriously weird at one point. Things proceed in a mundane and innocuous manner, until that moment when they don’t, and you get hit with something akin to a punch-line. The opening sequence is a conversation over breakfast between a man and his granddaughter, very familial, until the moment she asks a question... the response causes a spit take at the camera, and the film’s title forms out of the milk dripping down the screen. This is how Zokki proceeds.
As with most such anthologies, there are bits that work better than others, and in this film, it’s those arcs that develop their stories more effectively that have stayed with me after the end credits. The guy that hops on his bike for a lengthy road trip is an interesting tale, as he begins, seemingly on a whim, and with an antisocial demeanour that keeps other people at a distance. That’s until he runs into a group of fishermen who offer him a meal and a place to spend the night, as well as a reason to change his mind.
The two high school boys form an unlikely friendship in detention because of a smashed window that they’re suspected of. Ban is always talking about death and suicide, but he develops an obsession with Makita’s older sister. He soon starts plying Makita with questions about her, asking to meet her, and when that fails, offering to pay for her used underwear. The only problem is that the sister doesn’t exist. This doesn’t stop a lifelong friendship forming.
The most surreal element of the film is the father and son pair that breaks into the school at night. The father has issues, and a nostalgia for the past that his son is too young to appreciate, and who instead is understandably scared of doing the wrong thing, as well as a scary school building at night. Only this school actually has a real reason for them to be wary. These three arcs are the strongest in the film, and deliver in terms of entertainment. However the tale of the video store guy fell flat for me, while the tale of the granddaughter and her grandfather’s advice at the head of the film, doesn’t pay off until the end credits.
I enjoyed Zokki more than the Forest films, the stories are easier to relate to, and the film has a structure to it that works really well. But in the end, Zokki didn’t do enough for me to get the sense of euphoria that I hope for in films like this, when all the pieces fall into place, and you can see the film as a whole. Third Window Films give it a solid presentation on this Blu-ray, with a useful set of extra features.