White Mulberry Award for First Time Director Nominee
jigoku-no-hanazono OFFICE ROYALE
地獄の花園 (Jigoku no Hanazono)
Japan, 2021, 103’, Japanese
Directed by: Seki Kazuaki
Photography (color): Okudaira Isao
Editing: Onodera Emi
Music: Sorimachi Norihito
Producers: Kato Tatsuya, Sakurai Yuichi, Yamanobe Hakufumi
Cast: Nagano Mei, Nanao, Alice Hirose, Endo Kenichi, Koike Eiko
Date of First Release in Territory: May 21st, 2021
The OL or “office lady” (female clerk) has long been pop culture fodder. Back in the glorious Bubble Era days of the late 1980s and early 1990s manga artist Chusonji Yutsuko had a hit with Sweet Spot
, a comic in male-targeted Spa!
magazine whose heroines were so-called oyaji gyaru
– OLs who played golf, swilled whiskey and enjoyed other pursuits then considered the purview of oyaji, middle-aged guys.
Though the oyaji gyaru
had some basis in reality, Seki Kazuaki’s comedy jigoku-no-hanazono OFFICE ROYALE
zooms off into a two-fisted fantasyland that makes Chusonji’s cheeky creations look like tight-skirted wimps. The result is often hilarious, though its gender politics can be dubious.
The film’s heroine, Tanaka Naoko (Nagano Mei), is a 26-year-old OL working for a big company riven with factions among its OL ranks. Three of them, however, give new meaning to the term “corporate infighting” since they consist of yanki
, that is, grown-up delinquents brawling for bragging rights as number one on their company turf. Among the leaders is Shuri (the singled-named Nanao), a tall toughie resplendent in long, snake-like braids and scary black eyeliner.
Meanwhile, Naoko and her OL pals studiously ignore the pitched battles among their yanki
co-workers, which seems to be unfolding in another dimension apart from the peaceful routine of “normal” OL life, with its chitchat about diets and TV dramas.
Then a new hire, the sharp, self-assured Ran (Alice Hirose), becomes Naoko’s good buddy, but soon reveals herself as the toughest yanki
of all, lording over her defeated opponents in a spiffy sukajan
– a type of decorated blouse jacket long favored here by anti-social types.
By this time, I was starting to wonder when or whether Naoko’s story was going to get underway. Also, in a voiceover, she herself worries that she may be relegated to “best friend of the heroine” status, as per manga convention.
But beneath Naoko’s mild-mannered front, we learn, is a steely personality that can stand up to not only her yanki
colleagues, but also a rival clique from another company headed by a towering OL (Endo Kenichi) whose look is inspired by Tina Turner circa 1985, flame-colored wig included. But even Naoko quails when she encounters a mysterious silver-haired battler (Koike Eiko) who claims to be the strongest OL in Japan.
Played straight as a contest for OL supremacy, this story would have soon become tedious as the joke of kick-ass OLs wore thin. But the original script by comedian Bakarhythm weaves in laugh-worthy meta commentary by Naoko and Ran on the manga-esque plot developments, as well as back stories for the two leads that give their characters more motivation than simply king-of-the-hill ego inflation.
But the OLs rarely use their fighting skills on pervy guys. (Most of the salarymen we see are nice to a fault.) Also they do not kick against the limits on their careers set by their lowly OL status. And three of the strongest OLs are played by guys in drag, which makes for uncomfortable viewing when an unmistakably male fist makes contact with a woman’s jaw.
Finally, for reasons I won’t reveal, the ending seems to undermine the film’s girl-power theme, though I read it as yet another example of sly meta humor. The ultimate message of OFFICE ROYALE
: Make funny, not war.
Born in Nagano Prefecture in 1976, Seki Kazuaki had an early interest in movies and music videos. After dropping out of college, he entered a vocational school for the visual arts and apprenticed under director Nishikori Yoshinari. He has since been active as a director of music videos, TV commercials and dramas, as well as a photographer. He has won numerous awards and worked with some of the top music acts in Japan, including Perfume, Fukuyama Masaharu, AKB48, Radwimps and Yuming. His first feature film, jigoku-no-hanazono OFFICE ROYALE, opened in Japan in May 2021.
2021 – jigoku-no-hanazono OFFICE ROYALE