Film can be a magical thing that takes you to new and unexplored worlds; but perhaps it’s also fair to say that the majority of films made are run-of-the-mill affairs amounting to little more than promotional videos for the star idol or, sadly, product(s). Rather than being superstars, the cast of such films are simply ordinary people going about their day jobs, but with the job security of a zero hours contract.
Based on the novel “Actor Takuji Kameoka” by Akito Inui, in her third feature film, Satoko Yokohama explores the world of jobbing actor Takuji Kameoka (Ken Yasuda): a man who acts in both his professional and personal life, but is permanently unsure of his role in the world.
We start in what appears to be a bad TV movie; and that’s exactly what it is. Kameoka is a veteran performer: entering middle-age, he has had a career of bit-parts – often playing the thief – but is an old reliable for any low-level director needing a simple fix. He knows just what they want and how to deliver it for them; often called upon to guide a younger and inexperienced actor whose name will probably feature higher in the credits.
As in life, he is always the bride’s maid, never the bride. But, while perhaps getting more opportunities than his peers, he has failed to take them. As such, he spends his evenings drunk, dreaming of taking on the lead role, but his career has never hit the heights of his imagination. His face in life is permanently expressionless, living in a daze contemplating life’s important philosophical questions, such as “Do astronauts wear diapers when they take off?” Living the perils of a low-level actor – having to walk into a room and suddenly become someone else – he is always putting on a front, never himself when he meets new people. A permanent actor.
But two opportunities suddenly present themselves: a chance to star alongside a star actress in a stage production; as well as an audition for a role with his Spanish directorial hero. With two opportunities at real acting, able to truly express himself, will he be able to show some art rather than artifice?
Yokohama seeks to blur the lines between reality and acting. Meeting Azumi (Kumiko Aso), who runs the izakaya where he spends the night after a day’s shooting, he fakes his day job as a salesman of ten-pin bowling balls, not wanting to give off the false impression of being a movie star. The pair chat into the night, before Kameoka slumps out on the bar, dreaming of his acting roles. But, where he dreams of playing the domineering leads, the reality is that he is the subordinate supporting actor.
Kameoka is perhaps typical of many men reaching middle-age feeling that they could have done more with their lives. He knows, and internally believes, he has got what it takes to move on to the next level, but is too timid to make that leap. As such, he remains in limbo. When joining a stage production, the veteran female lead Matsumura (Yoshiko Mita) points out his limitations as an actor, and has to teach how to bring his inner thoughts to his outer actor.
The atmosphere throughout – when not a scene from one of his low-level roles – is slow-paced and absorbing. Indeed, it reflects Kameoka’s lack of moving outside his comfort zone. The most featured set is the izakaya where he meets Azumi, a quiet place of character where Kameoka is the only customer and, perhaps, where he feels most at home.
This slow mood, however, is offset by the quirky, keyboard demo-like soundtrack that wakes you up to let you know that this is a light comedy and shouldn’t be taken too seriously. While adding a wry smile charm, it does perhaps detract a little from the inner turmoil of Kameoka’s lot in life. But this is very much a Japanese comedy. The laughably absurd is played with a deadpan straight face. Yasuda’s face fits Kameoka’s perfectly. A voice, TV and supporting actor throughout his career, there might perhaps be a little of himself in Kameoka.
There might also be a little of Kameoka in all of us. If we could look at ourselves on screen, we might see we play a supporting role in our own lives: not grabbing opportunities when they present themselves; something always holding us back. Kameoka is “accident by design,” living the “limbo between life and death perfectly.” Forever behind the actor’s mask.