Dir: Nobuhiro Yamashita. Japan. 2015. 103mins

La La La At Rock Bottom

The gentle offbeat humour of director Nobuhiro Yamashita shines through La La La At Rock Bottom, a film that tackles love, redemption, music and second chances with oddball ease. It is a romantic comedy of sorts, but also one that is happy to dwell on violence and sadness, never resorting to easy filmic clichés and allowing its character to slowly reveal themselves to by rather human and complex souls.

The film is packed with charming asides and gently thoughtful performances.

Following films such as 2005’s Linda, Linda, Linda and his delightful 2013 film Tamako In Moratorium, Yamashita has proven himself as a subtle filmmaker, whose films are tinged with a rare charm and elegance. He likes a music link as well, and casting Subaru Shibutani, the lead singer of hit Japanese band Kanjani Eight, alongside the talented Fumi Nikaido is a savvy move and certainly pays off, with the two enjoying a quirky chemistry.

Certainly outside of Japan the oddly titled La La La At Rock Bottom - in truth a rather clumsy title that won’t help international audiences get to grips with what is about – likely falls into art house territory, but it could also appeal to distributors of more off-beat Japanese titles. It was originally titled Misono Universe (Misono Yunibasu) which refers to the Misono location in Osaka where the film is set, with ‘Universe’ referring to the club where the climactic music scene is staged. The film opens in Japan on Valentine’s Day.

The film - which had its world premiere at the Rotterdam International Film Festival - opens with glum-faced Shigeo (Shibutani) being released from prison after an 18 month stretch, and then promptly being beaten up and losing his memory. He is taken in by teenager Kasumi (Nikaido) who lives with her demented grandfather at the Sato Recording Studios, once owned and ran by her late parents.

She finds that he has a talent for singing, and naming him ‘Poochie’ – after her late dog – gets him to work around the premises while also letting him front for the band that she represents. She also investigates who he really is, but after finding out his real name and that he was a minor gangster who abandoned his son he decides not to reveal anything to him. When he starts to regain his memory he has to choose between his dark past of the singing that is important to him and has brought him close to Kasumi.

The film is packed with charming asides and gently thoughtful performances, form the band Akainu who perform with zeal and amusing zest through to the drunken medical assistance the injured Shigeo gets from Kasumi’s friend Makiko (Sarina Suzuki), who genially props up the local bar. With help from Kanno Tomoe’s script, director Nobuhiro Yamashita is smart at presenting balanced and un-clichéd characters (despite the old amnesia gambit being an age-old movie cliché itself) and telling a straight-forward story is amusing tenderness and offering more than a few musical highs (as he did with Linda, Linda, Linda) along the way.

Production companies: J Storm Inc., Gaga Corporation, Matchpoint Inc

International sales: Gaga Corporation, www.gaga.co.jp

Producers: Julie K Fujishima, Harafuji Kazuteru, Tom Yoda, Matsushist Tsuyoshi, Ogawa Shinji, Negishi Hiroyuki

Screenplay: Kanno Tomoe

Cinematography: Takagi Futa

Editor: Satoh Takashi

Music: Ikenaga Sjoji

Main cast: Sabaru Shibutani, Fumi Nikaido, Sarina Suzuki, Kawahara Katsumi