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Talk, Talk, Talk

(from left to right) Karina, Taichi Kokubun, Yuki Morinaga, and Yutaka Matsuhige in Talk, Talk, Talk.
Japanese: Shaberedomo Shaberedomo  
Year: 2007  
Director: Hideyuki Hirayama  
  Writer: Satoko Okudera, Takako Sato (novel)
  Cast: Taichi Kokubun, Karina, Yutaka Matsuhige, Yuki Morinaga, Shiro Ito, Tomekichi Himuka, Fusako Urabe
  The Skinny: A gentle comedy-drama about the dying art of Japanese stage comedy, Talk, Talk, Talk is a character-driven film about young people that even old people would like. That's a compliment.
Kevin Ma:

     Every Sunday night, the Japanese satellite TV station in the United States would broadcast the weekly rakugo show on TV, in which well-known (read: old) rakugo comedians would sit on stage and do single-man routines involving multiple characters, storytelling, and even some action without the aid of props. Dependent on comic timing, speaking tones, and specific language references, the routines were often too much for my feeble Japanese ability to understand. The same thing happens when listening to the rakugo routines in Hideyuki Hirayama's Talk, Talk, Talk, a gentle comedy-drama about the gradually dying art. Thankfully, the film's enjoyment is not reliant on understanding rakugo, which doesn't seem all that funny in English subtitles.
     Mitsuba (Taichi Kokubun, a member of the pop group Tokio) is one of the few young rakugo students of the storytelling art remaining in Japan. Audiences are dwindling, and everyone but Mitsuba himself agrees that he's not very talented at what he does. In fact, a stiff comedian who causes audience members to walk out probably has no place in the business. Nevertheless, Mitsuba remains committed to rakugo, stubbornly performing only the classics written by his mentor, who seems to have given up on him altogether.
     Through several fateful occurrences, Mitsuba comes across three people who need help from him: Satsuki (Karina), a beautiful but glum girl who can't even crack a smile, let alone communicate well with others; Murabayashi (Yuki Morinaga), a talkative youngster who is bullied at his Tokyo school because of his thick Kansai dialect; and Yugawara (Yutaka Matsushige), an ex-baseball player who can't bring his usual critical nature into the commentary booth, where he stutters his way through every game. They end up forming a small class, hoping Mitsuba would teach them how to speak better in their respective lives. A failing communicator himself, Mitsuba ends up teaching them the only thing he knows: rakugo routines.
     With an art as old as rakugo, Talk, Talk, Talk can be labeled as a movie about young people for old people. From old rakugo theaters to the streets of Asakusa to the Arakawa streetcars, images of old Tokyo are sprinkled throughout the film. Talk, Talk, Talk is a mature but pleasant film that is suitable for a broad audience, though its focus on character development over plot development may not appeal to a younger crowd, who may be attracted by the presence of popular musician Kokubun. Nevertheless, it's screenwriter Satoko Okudera and director Hideyuki Hirayama's ability to get us involved in these characters that makes the film so pleasant in the first place. While the four protagonists are flawed in their own right, their personalities eventually grow on us to the point that we end up caring about each step they take in the story. Talk, Talk, Talk doesn't need over-the-top acting or chaotic comic situations typically associated with films about that age group. Instead, it effectively relies on the charm of the characters and its main subject to entertain audiences in an unassuming manner - hence my calling it a film about young people for those who aren't young.
     The problem with a movie that appeals to a broad audience is the need to put in audience-pleasing elements that sometimes feel forced. In Talk, Talk, Talk, that element is the subtle romance between Satsuki and Mitsuba. Their relationship throughout the film seems to be one of pivotal importance, but neither Mitsuba nor Satsuki are interesting enough characters to make it engaging. The audience wants to see them together because they're young, good-looking and likable. But when their character traits are summed up with the words "glum" and "stiff", the film is forced to fall back on the other subplots to keep things interesting. Sometimes pitting a man and a woman together in an "odd couple" relationship doesn't necessarily have to lead to romance. This is one of those cases.
     For a non-Japanese audience, the charm of Talk, Talk, Talk may be harder to find. As mentioned before, rakugo is dependent on not only comic timing, but also the way words are spoken. As a result, we don't quite see how Mitsuba is too stiff, nor do we see how he suddenly becomes funny when he's simply telling the same joke. However, for the other characters, the point isn't how good their own rakugo routines are, but rather how learning rakugo can help them overcome their own problems. The ability of the filmmakers to juggle traditional Japanese culture and universally understandable storytelling is what makes Talk, Talk, Talk a winner: it satisfies Japanese audiences with something unique to their own culture, and it also gives other audiences something to fall back on. While one may complain that we don't see Mitsuba's students really learn anything in class, that is actually the ultimate lesson of the film: There is more to learn about communicating in the real world than any class can ever teach. (Kevin Ma 2007)

Availability: DVD (Japan)
Region 2 NTSC
2-disc Set
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Japanese Language Track
Dolby Digital Stereo
Removable English Subtitles
Various Extras
  Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen