Thursday, February 5, 2015

Mosquito on the 10th Floor (Yôichi Sai, 1983)

Who would have thought that a casual stroll through the Sharp Store would lead to the world's most intense mid-life crisis. I know, there's no such thing as a "Sharp Store," or maybe there is (I really need to get out more). Anyway, you should have seen this place, it was crawling with Sharp products. Looking at the wide array of Sharp computers on display in the Sharp section of the unnamed electronics store, our middle-aged "hero" seems fascinated by the newfangled gizmos. Now, I wouldn't say the computer is the primary cause of his meltdown, but the protagonist of Mosquito on the 10th Floor (Jukkai no mosquito) probably shouldn't have purchased it, as it does nothing but exacerbate the situation. In the realm that is North America, the middle-aged man usually manifests his mid-life crisis by picking up an expensive sports car. Well, in Japan... Actually, I think sports cars are pretty universal as far as purchases go for those going through mid-life crises. However, since not everyone can afford a sports car, a Sharp MZ-700 (NEC PC8001) is the next best thing.

Oh, before I continue. Here are a couple of Japanese expressions you should definitely learn before immersing yourself in the world depicted in this film.

The first is "Kōban." Police kiosks (or " police boxes") that are located in the various neighbourhoods throughout Japan. Except, instead housing hundreds of cops, they contain no more than two police officers at a time.

The second expression is "Harajuku." Not really an expression,  Harajuku is a geographic area where young people wear cool clothes and dance to rock 'n' roll and other happening now sounds.

Up next is " Kyōtei," which basically means boat racing. Using speed boats (or "hydroplanes"), the racers zip around a small oval track. The sport is apparently very popular in Japan and the races are bet on.

And the final expression is, "Pinku Pansuto." You don't have to have the cunning mind of an artful linguist to figure out that "Pinku Pansuto" means pink pantyhose in Japanese. While the expression "Pinku Taitsu" is technically more apt (the pink pantyhose are actually pink tights), no one can deny their importance. In fact, take away the pinku taitsu, or whatever you want to call them, from this particular movie, and you'll be looking at one seriously despondent Yum-Yum.

It's true, Sharp products are most definitely browsed by a middle-aged Chiba Prefecture resident in the opening scene (you can relax now, the language lesson is over), but the electro sounds created by Katsuo Ono are the first thing that grabbed me in the debut film by Yôichi Sai. Prevalent throughout the movie, the film's electronic score is, simply put, amazing. Let me put this way, if this tale of a "low-level bureaucrat" starts to get you down, look away from the screen and crank up the volume, 'cause this soundtrack is smoking hot.

After receiving their morning inspection, we quickly discover that the man wandering the mall in the film's opening is a cop, or, to be more specific, he's the "box chief" at a nearby police box. Even though I've only watched him stand in that box for a few seconds, I can already tell that his job must be tedious.

When he's not standing in a box (which he has apparently done for the past twenty years), hanging out at a local karaoke bar (I don't think I need to explain the meaning of the word "karaoke"), or moping around his tenth floor apartment, you can usually find the box chief (Yûya Uchida) leering at the young people dancing in Harajuku.

It turns out the box chief isn't a pervert, he's just curious to see how his estranged daughter's doing (she likes to dance there). Nevertheless, the sight the box chief standing completely still while all those around him (thousands of people) are dancing wildly is one of the film's more indelible moments.

On top of having a career that is literally going nowhere (he fails the captain's exam yet again), the box chief's ex-wife is constantly nagging him for child support, and he has a serious gambling problem (he loves betting on speed boat racing). To rectify these problems, he decides to take out a few loans. This is a great idea, I thought to myself. I mean, with names like, Takefuji Loans, The Money Store and Generous Credit, what could possibly go wrong?

Blessed with an influx of free money, the box chief buys that Sharp computer he was eye-balling in the opening scene.

Dying to show someone his new toy, the box chief brings a punk chick in iridescent pink tights to his apartment to see it. Now, in case you're wondering how he managed to get the punk chick in iridescent  pink tights to come to his apartment, it's simple, really, he dragged her there. She thought he was bringing her to the police station (he caught her shoplifting a bottle of whiskey at the supermarket), but ended up forcing her to play computer bowling in his dingy apartment.

As expected, the calls from the loan outfits (some of them, by the way, are a tad on the shady side... I know, I was just as shocked as you were) start coming in. But that doesn't stop the box chief. If anything, it causes his behaviour to become even more self-destructive.

Suddenly, the speed boat racetrack becomes his second home; he starts excepting more booty calls from Keiko (Reiko Nakamura), a "hostess" at his favourite karaoke bar; and his work begins to suffer. And not only that, he starts getting into fights and he rapes a female colleague.

Unable to keep it together, the box chief finds himself suffocating under the weight of his responsibilities. Wow, if you were judge this film based on what I've written so far, you would think Mosquito on the 10th Floor was a real downer. It is, in a way. But it's also an excellent character study. Or better yet, a cautionary tale about growing old. Don't take life so seriously, and try to find a hobby... one that doesn't involve blowing all your money at the speed boat track.

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