ChickFlicking at Fantasia 2012 – Afro Tanaka Review (Nadia Sandhu)

We now interrupt comprehensive Fantasia Film Festival coverage from Matt Hodgson for a surprise installment of Chickflicking.  A surprise because neither of us was ready for a relationship comedy right smack in the middle of this genre filled festival line up.

Fantasia Film Festival 2012

Afro Tanaka (2012)

Starring Shota Matsuda, and Nozumi Sasaki (One of Japan’s “Most Beautiful Women”)

Directed By Daigo Matsui

Don’t let the whimsical title mislead you, Afro Tanaka is no send up of ‘sploitation cinema.  Afro Tanaka is a heartwarming coming of age story about a boy-man, his fro and his bros.

The story opens as our lovably clueless hero is shocked out of a suspended state of boyhood by the news that one of his buddies, the fat one no less, is set to be married. In fact, all of his buddies have girlfriends, which means Tanaka will be the only dateless one at the wedding.  This is bad in and of itself, but it seems everyone remembers Tanaka being pretty vocal about having more time to lose his virginity and meet women when he impulsively dropped out of high school years ago. It is now a matter of honour that Tanaka get into a relationship and he quickly maps out a plan. Enter a cute new neighbour and the story unfolds from there.

Comedy is hard to do on a good day, it is even harder when it has to translate across cultures, but the humour in Afro Tanaka comes from a very real, very relatable emotional core that immediately connects with viewers – because if you haven’t been desperate to get a girl/boyfriend, you certainly have had a friend who was. This movie works without relying on three stooges style slapstick sight gags and extreme in your face over-acting but that’s not to say there isn’t some well timed mugging and stylistic homages to the films “gag manga” roots, charmingly sold by the comedic timing of a cast lead by rising young star Shota Matsuda (who also happens to be the lead in another Fantasia title Hard Romantiker).

“But what about the Afro?” you ask. Well, Tanaka has one and that is the extent of it’s involvement in the story. His decision to style his naturally abundant mane into the titular fro is in fact his only discernible claim to coolness.  At least the ladies seem to dig it even if our hapless hero hasn’t noticed that fact.

Afro Tanaka screens once more at Fantasia.  If you happen to be in Montreal, get thee to the cinema for 1pm on Thursday, August 2.  You will laugh, you will cringe, you will cheer.

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