October 30, 2006
Back in late 2004, Fred Patten referred to Mamoru Oshii's Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence as "coldly cerebral." Whether or not you agree with the adverb, you can't deny that pretty much all of Oshii's oeuvre is cerebral—and that includes his latest feature, the bizarre comedy Tachigui: The Amazing Lives of the Fast-food Grifters (originally Tachiguishi Retsuden) the last feature I saw at the Festival du Nouveau Cinéma.
Tachigui is that strange kind of comedy where everything is over the top yet played straight, so that it's hysterically funny but you barely laugh. For the most part, the film is a mockumentary—hardly an accurate description, but the closest fit—that chronicles the rise of a particular kind of con artist that uses elaborate techniques to scam free eats. At the same time, the movie chronicles the evolution of fast food in Japan, as it starts in a small soba shop just after World War II and finds its way through modern franchises like Yoshinoya by movie's end. The third parallel thread is that of Japan's social evolution.
Much of Tachigui's humour derives from the presentation, that of a semi-academic ethnographic analysis of the key figures over these six decades, larger-than-life characters like Moongaze Ginji (who stuns his victims by engaging in philosophical discourse they can't hope to win) and Hamburger Tetsu (who can single-handedly destroy a burger chain's operations one franchise at a time through a masterful combination of a massive appetite and split-second timing). About three-quarters of the way through the plot zigzags a little, as the narrator's relationship to the story becomes clearer, but by then it doesn't matter: the viewer has totally given in to this strange new reality by that point.
Incidentally, one of the best gags in the movie is revealed during the end credits: Just about every character is played by someone significant in the anime industry. A few of the names I caught and managed to scribble down were Shoji Kawamori (mecha designer for the original Macross series as well as the movie, and director of Macross Plus), Kenji Kawai (who composed the music to both Ghost in the Shell movies and Tachigui), Kenji Kamiyama (director of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex), Toshio Suzuki (producer of both Ghost in the Shell movies as well as many Studio Ghibli films) and Mitsuhisa Ishikawa, the president of Production I.G. Oshii himself is in there as well.
Tachigui uses a technique Oshii calls "superlivemation," where objects and live actors are digitally photographed in a variety of angles and poses, then the digital images are heavily processed, sometimes disassembled and reassembled, composited and animated. The end result is an odd but appealing blend that lands somewhere in the nexus between JibJab's 2-0-5, Toshikatsu Wada's Bip & Bap, and Oshii's own Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence (which, like Tachigui, was produced at the Production I.G. studio).
A final note: Tachigui is linked to Oshii's multimedia Kereberos universe, which connects books, anime and manga. You don't need to know that to enjoy the film, but like the anime-creator gag, the more you know the more you get out of it. And isn't that always the way with cerebral films?
Buy Tachiguishi Retsuden Collector's Set (Region 2, Japanese language) from YesAsia.com