ND/NF REVIEW: Japan's "Adrenaline Drive" Runs High on Screwball Comedy
by Brandon Judell
If Shinobu Yaguchi‘s “Adrenaline Drive” had been released, say by Disney, with a post-acne cast of “Dawson’s Creek” interchangables, this comic effort would have wound up directly at the mall and not as part of New Directors/New Films. In fact, if Eisner’s underlings know anything, they’ll be trying to snag the remake rights as you read this.
What’s endearing about this rambunctious, anything goes venture, with its at times awkward acting and loose direction, is that it entertains as much as it does by chewing up our American film clichés and then spitting them out with a clever Asian tinge.
(Please note that not everyone was charmed. One fellow critic said I was worthy of being punched out for laughing so much at this “crap.” Thank heavens she was a foot shorter than me.)
The bufoonish tale tells of a self-doubting car rental clerk, Satoru Suzuki (Masanobu Ando), who through no fault of his own, rear ends his company van into a luxury car driven by a rather nasty Yakuza gangster, Kuroiwa (Yutaka Mathushige). Before you can yell “California roll,” the timid but attractive young man finds himself in Yakuza headquarters with the difficult choice of either paying a huge sum of money to repair the crook’s auto or having his fingers broken.
Meanwhile, around the corner, an equally faint-hearted soul, the four-eyed nurse Shizuko (Ishida Hikari) is picking up some goodies for her fellow workers who consider her a hopeless nerd.
Back at the Yakuza lair, an inexperienced thug trying to make tea causes a stove to blow up, killing everyone in the offices except Suzuki and Kuroiwa. Running from her shopping to the disaster area, Shizuko starts comforting the first living creature she sees, Suzuki. A few minutes later, the cops arrive, and our two heroes find themselves in an ambulance with a master criminal and a suitcase holding a few million dollars. But not for long.
Soon the socially inept pair are zooming across Japan with their newfound wealth and numerous Yakuza in hot, highly comic pursuit. Yaguchi keeps the action going at a full romp while he slowly transforms the two virginal leads into hotties who are perfect for each other. An expected love scene doesn’t show up, since it would have seemed out of place, according to the director. And he’s right, since he’s aiming more for a Keystone Cops hullabaloo than “Notting Hill” sweetness — and nothing is too off the wall for him to try and achieve it.
For instance, early on Suzuki and Shizuko decide to wash off the blood that splattered all over their millions. The pair goes into a Laundromat at midday and uses every washer and dryer to get their dough into spic and span shape. The scene supplies a great visual, a truly funny one, but would anyone with half a brain go into such a public place with their newfound illegal goodies? Yaguchi’s skill is apparent in his not making you care.
But what really holds the picture together is the charming, adolescent awkwardness supplied by the two leads. The director has said, “Most people who go to movies aren’t Superman. We are ordinary people leading ordinary lives. At least most of us are. We go to the movies to escape our ordinary lives and vicariously experience someone else’s for a few hours.” That’s why Ishida and Ando win us over, even if we realize early on their nerd disguises are no more convincing than Clark Kent’s spectacles. We want to see this pair transformed by contact lenses and expensive clothes. We want them to fall in love and drive away in a sports car because then maybe we have a chance, too.
[Brandon Judell, a former Bingo card salesman for the Ridiculous Theatrical
Company, is a contributing editor to Detour magazine and also writes
regularly for The Bay Area Reporter, Flair, plus is an on-air film critic for
MetroGuide. He’s additionally appeared as himself in Rosa von Praunheim‘s
“Neurosia” and Philip B. Roth‘s “I was a Jewish Sex Worker” but not as himself in
George Romero‘s “Day of the Dead“.]