Japan, 2022, 96’, Japanese
Directed by: Ueda Shinichiro
Screenplay: Ueda Shinichiro
Photography (color): Sone Takeshi
Editing: Ueda Shinichiro
Art Direction: Fukuoka Juntaro, Nunobe Masato
Music: Suzuki Nobuhiro, Lee Ayur
Producers: Kokuta Masahito, Inaba Momo
Executive Producers: Ito Hitoshi, Nishiyama Tsuyoshi
Cast: Minagawa Yoji, Abera Hidenobu, Tokunaga Eri, Shuhama Harumi, Iseki Yuka
Date of First Release in Territory: January 14th, 2022
Ueda Shinichiro had the great luck to direct a once-in-a-career hit, the 2018 zombie comedy One Cut of the Dead. Propelled by overwhelmingly positive word-of-mouth, it earned more than a thousand times its $30,000 budget. This bonanza didn’t make Ueda rich – like most directors in Japan, he didn’t receive a share of the film’s profits – but it did give him a carte blanche of sorts for subsequent projects.
His follow-ups – the three-part omnibus Aesop’s Game and the comedy Special Actors – tried to recapture the madcap energy of One Cut of the Dead, with mixed success.
Now Ueda is back with yet another wacky comedy, the enigmatically titled Popran. Instead of the Chinese-box plot structure of his zombie hit, the film follows a more predictable path to its heartwarming conclusion. That said, this is still Ueda, a director who follows his own bent muse no matter how far it leads him from the path to commercial success.
The premise seems inspired by Pokemon Go, a smartphone game in which players roam outside to capture elusive digital critters. In Popran, however, the title beasties are like little dive bombers, zipping by in a blur and, as news broadcasts inform us, causing puzzlement, if not yet panic.
As the story begins, Tagami Tatsuya (Minagawa Yoji) is the CEO of a money-spinning online manga service, striding down corporate hallways past groveling supplicants. His road to riches has been paved with lucrative licensing deals for already established products rather than original manga, which he disdains.
In comedy terms, the arrogant Tatsuya is ripe for a comeuppance – and receives it one morning when he discovers his genitals have disappeared, presenting a situation in which it’s impossible to use a urinal, but rife with opportunities for cringe-inducing gags. It’s in the men’s room where Tatsuya discovers a QR code for something called the “popran club.”
Desperate to know what’s happening to him, he attends a meeting and encounters other men who have lost what they call their popran, which have transmogrified into flying objects.
Tatsuya finds that retrieving his popran is no easy task – it flies at speeds up to 200 kph – and if he fails to reattach it in six days, he’ll lose the chance forever. One club member offers a cryptic piece of advice: “You already know where it is.” Armed with a special net, Tatsuya goes on the hunt.
The ensuing search recalls Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol: Similar to Ebenezer Scrooge, Tatsuya meets people from his past and present, and the encounters not only remind him of his humble beginnings, but also lead him to moral improvement.
As Tatsuya, Minagawa performs primarily for laughs, though his character grows and learns the film’s most important lesson: Remember where you came from, and who got you to where you are today.
Minagawa is a gifted comic who becomes a more likeable, relatable presence after Tatsuya comes down from his executive perch. And the film works as both farce and metaphor for the fickle nature of success, however you define it. For some, it’s a $30 million hit; for others, it’s a popran you count on not to go poof.
Born in Shiga Prefecture in 1984, Ueda Shinichiro began making films with a Handycam while still in junior high school. In 2009, at age 25, he formed the film production cooperative Panpokopina. He made his commercial debut in 2015 with a segment of ４/Neko, a cat-themed omnibus film. His breakout, however, was the 2018 zombie comedy One Cut of the Dead. After screening at the 2018 Udine FEFF, the film became a smash-hit in Japan, earning more than 1,000 times its $30,000 budget. He has followed up with other self-scripted comedies, most recently with this year’s Popran.
2011 – Okome to Oppai (cortometraggio)
2011 – Koisuru Shosetsuka (cortometraggio)
2014 – Kanojo no Kokuhaku Ranking (cortometraggio)
2014 – Last Wedding Dress (cortometraggio)
2015 – Nekomanma (episodio del film antologico 4/Neko).
2015 – Take 8 (cortometraggio)
2018 – One Cut of the Dead
2022 – Popran