Keisuke Korada (Kiichi Nakai) is Japan’s all-time least popular Prime Minister. Coarse, corrupt, foul-mouthed, and sexist, his antagonistic behaviour and punitive policies have delivered him the ire of the Japanese people and an approval rating of 2.3%. When a protester hits him in the head with a rock, he is rushed to hospital – only for the doctors to find he has lost his memory.
Writer/director Koki Mitani has been one of the mainstays of Japanese comedy for some decades now, charting a decades-long career between the theatre and the cinema. Hit Me Anyone One More Time! is his first film project in four years – his first since the underrated Galaxy Turnpike – and fits snugly into his resume of works with an ensemble cast playing an over the top satirical farce. It does not particularly seek to comment or criticise on contemporary Japanese politics, but rather tells a comparatively safe story of an unpleasant man given a clean slate to remake his life for the better. A best comparison for viewers new to Mitani’s work would be Ivan Reitman’s American political comedy Dave, starring Kevin Kline and Sigourney Weaver. This seems something of an influence on Mitani here. At any rate the comparisons are remarkably easy to make.
The film begins with Korada already in hospital with amnesia, thus denying the audience an expected prelude to showcase the Prime Minister at his worst. Instead his past actions are drip-fed over the course of the film’s first act. There are no surprises – in fact the film in general is overloaded with stereotypes – but it is all well played by the cast, many of whom have performed in Mitani’s films before. Kiichi Nakai plays an amnesiac Prime Minister splendidly, with plenty of personal appeal. Among the cast a genuine highlight is Eiko Koike as one of the PM’s numerous private secretaries, who manages to show off a strong flair for deadpan comedy in many of the film’s highlights.
Less well served are Yoshino Kimura as a rather unlikely Japanese-American President, in scenes seemingly lifted from Love Actually, and Yo Yoshida as an aggressive opposition leader with a rather unpleasant connection to the PM’s past that manages to demain her position and character quite deeply.
The film is arguably a little long, which is a constant problem with Mitani’s films – he is first and foremost a playwright and theatrical director, and the differing format favours longer works. The screenplay is also a little weaker than previous films that I have seen, including the aforementioned Galaxy Turnpike and The Uchoten Hotel. Thankfully he remains a dab hand at both direction and casting. His visual style is elegant and unfussy, relying extensively on long takes to push the attention onto his cast, and his casting choices are in fine form with a overwhelmingly talented set of actors on screen.
At its best, Hit Me Anyone One More Time! is a wonderfully appealing comedy, combining a strong comic sense with a great cast. At its worst, it replays old tropes a little too weakly and comes up a pleasing but patchy confection.