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Happy Flight
Happy Flight

(left) Kazue Fukushii and (right) Haruka Ayase man the cabin in Happy Flight.
Japanese: ハッピーフライト  
Year: 2008
Director: Shinobu Yaguchi  
Writer: Shinobu Yaguchi
Cast: Haruka Ayase, Seiichi Tanabe, Saburo Tokito, Kazue Fukiishi, Shinobu Terajima, Ittoku Kishibe, Tomoko Tabata, Fumiyo Kohinata, Naoto Takenaka, Takashi Sasano, Akira Emoto, Mika Hijii, Yoshiyuki Morishita, Aiko Ito, Noriko Eguchi, Bokuzo Masana, Sanae Miyata, Daikichi Sugawara, Bengal, Hana Kino, Shizuka Fujimoto, Tomoharu Hasegawa, Yasuhi Nakamura, Ryu Morioka, Kami Hiraiwa, Tetsushi Tanaka, Ryosei Tayama, Kiho Kashiro
The Skinny:

Sometimes fun and entertaining, but also so tension-free that one may wonder what all the fuss is about. Happy Flight was officially sponsored by All Nippon Airways (ANA), so that probably explains why everyone who works for the airline is so damn cheerful. An agreeable but lesser work from Shinobu Yaguchi.

by Kozo:

As cheery and light as its title implies, Happy Flight is an amusing trifle that certainly entertains. However, given the film's award-winning pedigree, disappointment is a possibility too. Director Shinobu Yaguichi previously directed the very popular Waterboys and Swing Girls, two "zero-to-hero" tales of regular folks who beat the odds, silencing naysayers by excelling at synchronized swimming, playing band instruments, or just being self-disciplined. Both films were popular hits and mined very likable and agreeable themes. Happy Flight does that too - when it can. When it can't, it just breezes along in an unremarkable and hopefully not uninteresting fashion.

Happy Flight takes place during a single ANA (All Nippon Airways) flight from Japan to Honolulu, during which many potential problems come to light. Among the possible disasters-in-the-making are nervous and/or upset passengers, a co-pilot (Seiichi Tanabe) who just crashed the simulator, a ditzy flight attendant (Haruka Ayase of Cyborg She) on her first international assignment, a mechanic who may have left his wrench in the engine, plus numerous minor subplots happening in the terminal, in the air, in the hanger or in the control tower. There's even something going on with the guy who scatters birds before take-off. About the only potential issue not covered by Happy Flight is a sugar shortage at the airport branch of Mr. Donut.

There also isn't any deliberate wrongdoing going on - a plot point that's usually a prerequisite for any air panic film. However, there are two reasons why bad intentions shouldn't be expected in Happy Flight. One, Shinobu Yaguchi doesn't employ villains in his films (neither Waterboys or Swing Girls really had any), and two, Happy Flight was officially sponsored by ANA, who would likely never agree to have their airline and employees presented as incompetent enough to allow sabotage to happen on their flights. Not that the film is unequivocally a commercial for ANA; to the company's credit, they do allow their onscreen employees to make minor mistakes and be fallible - with the caveat that all problems can be solved to everyone's satisfaction or at least understanding. It would irresponsible to their company brand to allow otherwise.

Unfortunately, that onscreen/offscreen synergy ultimately contributes to Happy Flight's lack of tension. The film is less compelling than either Waterboys or Swing Girls - and those films were practically tension-free anyway. The feel-good formula here is obvious and winning, but in Happy Flight the notion that it's all going to end well is magnified to a narrative-killing degree because of the very scale of the subject matter. This is an international air flight and not a band or swim competition, so if problems arise we know that nothing can be as bad as the film might imply. Nobody's going to do anything that could cause loss of life - or even just a loss of a job. The individuals in Happy Flight are quirky but not unprofessional, so there's little "zero to hero" charm here. There won't even be a real moment of panic, because if an ANA employee does panic, that'd make the company look bad. Nope, everyone ANA employs will come through admirably and without any fuss - even if they did once crash a simulator.

The lack of tension makes Happy Flight a likable but ultimately non-essential narrative film. However, even though the film is only middling as a story, it actually has far more value as a light documentary about a single airline flight populated by a bunch of impossibly agreeable, kind-hearted people. Yaguchi and company obviously did their research for Happy Flight, as the multiple details and stories they depict in the flight feel very real. The job-specific minutiae is interesting and very educational, though some of the more technical conversations between pilots are borderline boring. Still, the film conveys the overwhelming care, professionalism and effort required to manage a single commercial flight safely and efficiently, and it's conceivable that an audience member may leave the film with a greater appreciation for flying the friendly skies. Will Happy Flight make a difference the next time an airline loses your luggage or a flight attendant is rude to you? Probably not. However, if the flight attendant looks and acts like Haruka Ayase, I'm sure there are many people who wouldn't mind. (Kozo 2009)


DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
Intercontinental Video, Ltd.
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Japanese Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English and Chiense Subtitles

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