Two Cents Picks a Fight with TOKYO MIGHTY GUY

Two Cents is an original column akin to a book club for films. The Cinapse team will program films and contribute our best, most insightful, or most creative thoughts on each film using a maximum of 200 words each. Guest writers and fan comments are encouraged, as are suggestions for future entries to the column. Join us as we share our two cents on films we love, films we are curious about, and films we believe merit some discussion.

We try to cover a lot of ground here at Two Cents, digging into different genres and perspectives. As much as we enjoy covering both new releases and well-known classics, our favorite thing to do is share obscurities and oddities that we love — our deep cuts of cinema — and hopefully spread that love around.

Tokyo Mighty Guy is one such pick. Directed by Buichi Saito (the Rambler series, Lone Wolf And Cub: Baby Cart in Peril), it’s a weird genre mashup that’s part musical, part hang-out, part Yakuza action, part screwball romantic comedy. Japan’s cinematic output of the era is fairly well appreciated in the west, provided it’s in the typical genres: samurai/chanbara, crime, Kaiju, pinku, or drama. But on the other hand, weird stuff like this falls between the cracks.

Tokyo Mighty Guy centers on Jiro (Akira Kobayashi), an aspiring young chef who has a simple dream of turning his parents’ humble eatery into a classy French restaurant, but is hampered by racketeering gangsters, the antics of his goofy friends, and the literal intrusion of a car crashing the front door — its passenger a powerful politician. The plot, however, is secondary to simply spending time with some young people in Tokyo’s Ginza district as they navigate into adulthood. A generation removed from World War II, these are the explorers of a brighter future as Japan moves into new prosperity, having grown up in the difficult post-war era. Jiro and his pals are ready to have fun, find love, live life, and be good — and we as the audience get to tag along.

Arrow Video released Tokyo Mighty Guy on Blu-ray as part of its Nikkatsu Diamond Guys series, which was my introduction to the film. It recently showed up on Amazon Prime and I knew I had to share it with the film club. Thankfully it worked out because as it turns out, well… I’ll let the group say it in their own words. — Austin

Next Week’s Pick:

These days, it seems like there’s no property too obscure, too esoteric, or too willfully uncinematic to get turned into a movie. As long as there’s some kind of brand recognition, studios are on board for dumping lots and lots of money into the development process.

But it wasn’t always this way! When John Landis and Jonathan Lynn sought to bring the venerable board game Clue to life as a major motion picture, they were laughed off the screen, and not in the good way that you want a comedy to be laughed at. Yet the film persevered and developed a cult following, not least of all because of moments like…

So give Clue a watch on Amazon Prime, and join us next week to tell us your thoughts on the film, which one-liner you liked best, and which of the endings is the ‘right’ one! — Brendan

Would you like to be a guest in next week’s Two Cents column? Simply watch and send your under-200-word review to twocents(at) anytime before midnight on Thursday!

Our Guests

Chris Chipman:

I still have this giant smile on my face as I write this!

I was unaware of the existence of Tokyo Mighty Guy before it was picked for this column and now I immediately want to see everything else the cast was in. This charming, bizarre romp of a film was just an absolute joy to watch. I knew I was hooked as soon as the opening credits began to roll, where the main characters ran around in a cardboard-cutout city akin to an elementary school play.

Something that really struck me throughout was how progressive this film was in comparison to its Western counterparts of the time. Instead of characters/universes like James Bond where women characters were undermined and our main hero only adds to that oppression, Tokyo Mighty Guy’s central premise and hero are built on the polar opposite. Jiro (our main character) is not only an accomplished French chef, excellent street fighter, and intelligent enough to outwit members of the Yakuza crime syndicate, but he is also very strong in his morals, calling out other men for their mistreatment of women. He also holds a good, old fashioned apology in higher regard than any financial compensation.

I also really appreciated the very loose, comedic way this movie moved along. It often reminded me of a live action cartoon, similar to the works of Steven Chow. (@TheChippa)

Jaime Burchardt:

The first thought that came to mind after Tokyo Mighty Guy was over (ok, more like after the first 23 minutes) was “why oh why didn’t I blind buy both Arrow Nikkatsu Diamond Guy volumes when they were on sale?!”

Yeah, I’m gonna be kicking myself for a while about that. I’m sure not all the movies contained will be like Tokyo Mighty Guy but if they’re even a fraction of this film’s quality, the blind buys are worth it for me — and you, if you can get your hands on them. In its 78-minute span, I was taken to a charming place where the masses back up the little folk, the accidental sight of a naked man literally makes time reverse, and the #MeToo movement sort of gets an early start. We follow Jiro around as he makes everyone’s lives better, just by being himself! Friends and foes alike get affected by his good nature, and to him it’s nearly effortless. He just does what’s right, and you’re damn right that earns him a random musical number in a bathhouse.

I truly loved the world this 1960 Japanese film created for our characters, who in themselves are just regular stiffs earning a living however they want. Nobody’s judged for being who they really are, and it’s all lovingly set up for hilarity. Tokyo Mighty Guy plays out like an anthology film in hiding, where Jiro comes across a few different situations and we see the lengths he goes to make everything right. It’s part musical, part social commentary, part oh-hell-no, part ok-I-have-to-rewind-that-again, and all around freaking delightful. (@jaimeburchardt)

Brendan Agnew (The Norman Nerd):

This is the kind of film that makes me grateful for the Two Cents column. I dunno about anyone else, but I don’t usually watch many Japanese sex farce / romantic comedy / musical / gangster dramas from the 1960s, and… evidently, I’ve been missing out.

It’s a good thing that Tokyo Mighty Guy establishes the core dynamic of earnest-but-shy Hideko (Ruriko Asaoka) and suave-but-clueless Jiro (Akira Kobayashi) and their “will they, won’t they?” relationship in the opening scenes of the film, because after that, the movie takes off for the remainder of its 78 minutes and careens through several other movies’ worth of stuff and just trusts you to keep up. The actors and staging are deft enough that the blend of genres combined with language differences and cultural barriers (one blink-and-you’ll-miss-it joke hinges on Jiro, son of a restaurateur, being referred to as an “oyabun”) are still a small thing next to the thwarted shakedowns, attempted suicides, romantic misunderstandings, gangster wrestling (literally), and wedding shenanigans that would feel at home in one of the broader Shakespeare comedies. Tone can be a hard thing to pin down, but Tokyo Mighty Guy walks a fine line between exaggerated and absurd that serves it well.

The gag the film pulls off as adroitly as that laundry list of “what could possibly happen next?” is how consistently unruffled Kobayashi plays the titular Mighty Guy. Jiro is a man so in control of his whirlwind environment that you’d think they had to invent Buckaroo Bonzai just to make a point, but he’s a different kind of power fantasy than we’re mostly used to, and Kobayashi plays up those important ego-puncturing moments to keep those feet ever so slightly dusted with clay. He’s a dynamite leading man in a delightfully surprising gem that I darn near missed out on. Don’t let that happen to you, Tokyo Mighty Guy is well worth looking at. (@BLCAgnew)

The Team

Brendan Foley:

I don’t have a lot new to add that hasn’t already been said, so I’ll just say that, like everyone else here, I’d never so much as heard of this movie before Austin picked it, but from the opening musical number I was all aboard. Tokyo Mighty Guy sprints through plot(s) at an insane rate, but it’s all held together by the utterly unflappable lead performance by Akira Kobayashi as a man so upstanding that his defeated enemies eagerly beg to join his side, and he allows them to without question because, again, he’s just that good a guy. Kobayashi sprinkles juuuuuuuust enough goofiness into his leading man to keep him from becoming a self-parody, but Jiro is still one of the best movie heroes I’ve encountered in some time, and it just makes me sad that there isn’t a dozen more films charting the adventures of him and his ever-expanding retinue of friends.(@theTrueBrendanF)

Austin Vashaw:

Tokyo Mighty Guy is a little difficult to explain. It’s not particularly about anything while sort of being about everything, with a mishmash of subplots, themes, and colorful characters weaving through its meandering narrative. The film’s editing even can be a little jarring as it jumps through vignettes and you might wonder where it’s all headed.

But none of that ultimately matters, as the film and its protagonist are so effortlessly charismatic and endearing that they keep you engaged, laughing, and ultimately cheering. Jiro is so effortlessly cool and noble that even his opponents are charmed by his nature, and that’s infectious to the audience.

I wasn’t entirely sure if this just happened to hit me on the right wavelength or if others would latch onto its odd feel-good charms, but the mob has spoken and Tokyo Mighty Guy definitely gets a hearty collective Two Cents seal of approval. (Austin Vashaw)

Further reading:

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