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Thermae Romae
 
Thermae Romae

Hiroshi Abe and Aya Ueto study bathrooms in Thermae Romae.
 
  Japanese: テルマエ・ロマエ
Year: 2012  
Director: Hideki Takeuchi  
  Writer:

Shogo Muto, Mari Yamazaki (original manga)

  Cast: Hiroshi Abe, Aya Ueto, Masachika Ichimmura, Kazuki Kitamura, Kai Shishido, Takashi Sasano, Riki Takeuchi
  The Skinny:

Hiroshi Abe is perfectly cast in this knowing and silly adaptation of Mari Yamazaki's hit manga. Entertaining, throwaway and stupid fun.

   
Review
by Kozo:
Manga adaptation Thermae Romae takes a farfetched, one-note premise and delivers a fun if not very intelligent time at the movies. Mari Yamazaki’s original manga chronicles the adventures of frustrated Roman bath architect Lucius Modestus (played in the film by Hiroshi Abe), who travels through time from Ancient Rome to modern-day Japan whenever he needs inspiration for new bath designs. Lucius’ time leaps are accidental, and occur when he gets sucked into a Roman bath and surfaces in a 21st century counterpart. If only regular travel were that easy.

The first half of Thermae Romae is essentially manga vignettes directly adapted, with Lucius zipping through time and reacting hilariously at his discoveries. The advanced bath culture of the Japanese unfailingly impresses Lucius, allowing him to return to his own time with innovations like private home baths, refreshing flavored milk drinks and even the automatic bidet. Rinse and repeat, with Lucius gaining new inspiration every installment and the comedy arising from fish-out-of-water gags and the primitive Roman versions of Lucius’ appropriated bath technology. As Lucius’ bath accomplishments grow, so does his prestige and the potential for political trouble.

There’s romance too, or a semblance of it. Lucius frequently runs into Mami (Aya Ueto of Azumi and Softbank commercial fame), a young manga artist who exists basically to lust after Lucius and provide support when he experiences his inevitable and clichéd self-doubt. Ultimately, the Empire’s future rests on the healing properties of Lucius’ mineral baths – a plot development that’s so unconvincing that it’s nearly insulting to anyone who’s studied history or even seen Gladiator. Still, this is a movie where a bunch of Japanese actors play Europeans (only for the main roles), and everyone in Ancient Rome conveniently speaks Japanese. Reality? That’s for more ambitious or pretentious movies.

Thermae Romae has plenty of problems, starting with its storyline of Roman political intrigue, which never becomes acute or interesting. History is used as a backdrop only, and time travel rules are undefined or only blithely addressed. Romance is lacking too; the film’s “destined” link between Lucius and Mami never feels like anything more than a manufactured detail tacked-on by marketing. The film also has grating cultural cliches (e.g., whenever Lucius travels through time, a rotund opera singer makes like Placido Domingo), plus the running time is too long, there are massive plot holes and the second half occasionally drags. Calling the film truly good would be stretching matters.

But Thermae Romae proves to be absolutely enjoyable. This is a commercial and completely throwaway product that would never win any awards, but it’s also good, dumb, silly fun. The film’s single joke premise is so amusing and so cleverly played that it arguably carries the film through its numerous rough patches. It also helps that the star is the frequently naked Hiroshi Abe, sporting a natty perm and a hilarious air of gravity. Abe essays Lucius Modestus as a righteous straight man, and his wide-eyed reactions to the bath inventions of the Japanese (whom he initially calls the “flat-faced clan”) may be worth the price of admission alone. Abe is a true pro, and honors the material by never smirking, winking or letting on to the audience that he’s better than the material.

Tech credits are fine, with extra mention going to the film’s impressive Ancient Rome set (shot at Rome’s Cinecitta Film Studios) and the plentiful extras, many multiplied by obvious CGI. For Japanese populist fare, this is a good-looking, high-quality production, and the fake or unconvincing portions are made largely tolerable thanks to the film’s good-natured, self-effacing attitude. This is such a ridiculous concept that if someone takes it seriously and gets upset, well, that’s really their fault. It’s apparent that everyone involved with Thermae Romae was in on the joke and had a grand old time. If you see it, following suit would be smart. (Kozo, Reviewed at the Udine Far East Film Festival, 2012)

   
  Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
Vicol Entertainment Ltd. (HK)
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Japanese Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English and Chinese subtitles
*Also Available on Blu-ray Disc
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Image credit: Udine Far East Film Festival

   
   
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