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The Uchouten Hotel
  |     review    |     availability     |


DVD (Japan)
Region 2 NTSC
Toho Home Video
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Japanese Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English Subtitles

AKA: The Wow-Choten Hotel
AKA: Suite Dreams
Year: 2005
Director: Koki Mitani
Writer: Koki Mitani
Cast: Koji Yakusho, Takako Matsu, Koichi Sato, Shingo Katori, Ryoko Shinohara, Keiko Toda, Katsuhisa Namase, Kumiko Aso, You, Jo Odagiri, Takuzo Kadono, Susumu Terajima, Kazuyuki Asano, Yoshimasa Kondo, Jiei Kabira, Keiko Horiuchi, Zen Kajiwara, Masanori Ishii, Mieko Harada, Toshiaki Karasawa, Masahiko Tsugawa, Shiro Ito, Toshiyuki Nishida
The Skinny: Inconsequential, fluffy, and ultimately quite fun. It may not amount to all that much, but The Uchouten Hotel is light comic gold.
by Kozo:
     If you're looking to put a smile on your face, checking into The Uchouten Hotel may be a good idea. An all-star ensemble comedy from director-writer Koki Mitani (University of Laughs), Uchouten Hotel (AKA: Suite Dreams) is an amiable screwball comedy featuring more Japanese stars than you probably would ever want in a film. Koji Yakusho (Shall We Dance?) stars as Shindo, assistant manager of the Avanti Hotel, which is about to endure a particularly packed New Year's Eve. The expected festivities are causing their share of stress, but there are extra distractions afoot, including the presence of a disgraced senator (Koichi Sato) hiding from the media, an enthusiastic prostitute (Ryoko Shinohara) trolling for business, messed up celebration banners that need to be rewritten, a Man of the Year roast for a deer fertility society, a depressed singer (Toshiyuki Nishida), disgruntled performers for hire, and finally a duck on the loose. Fittingly, the film runs over two hours.
     The staff has their own problems too, ranging from professional doubt to relationship issues to mistaken identity. Bellboy Kenji (Shingo Katori) is looking to quit the hotel, while maid Hana (Takako Matsu) plays dress-up and is mistaken for a gold-digging socialite. Meanwhile, Shindo strives to keep everything running, but he has his own issues too. His ex-wife (Mieko Harada) happens to be in attendance that evening, and he's unwilling to show her that he's just an assistant hotel manager. Seeing the opportunity, Shindo pretends to be the deer fertility society's Man of the Year, with hilarious, though ultimately expected results. Shindo's ill-advised assuming of another identity is a tried-and-true sitcom convention, and can be seen in your standard U.S. sitcoms, e.g. Three's Company or a trillion other shows that jumped the shark long before they reached their merciful end. It's far from an inspired gag, and would seem to deserve a roll of the eyes rather than a belly laugh.
     However, it's not Uchouten Hotel that lifts from sitcoms, but rather the sitcoms lifting from a much older source. Uchouten Hotel may be a newly produced motion picture, but it belongs to a different era, namely the screwball comedies of 30s and 40s Hollywood, which were replete with crisscrossing dialogue, witty and sophisticated banter, and an overall feeling that could be summed up as light, amiable, and satisfying. Uchouten Hotel echoes those films in its feel-good aims, farcical situations, and very few deviations, if any, into the sordid or dark. There may be a prostitute and a corrupt senator in Uchouten Hotel, but sex and sin are usually things to be conquered or swept aside. What Uchouten Hotel seems to be pushing are grounded, common sense values versus pride, greed, or general selfishness. Characters frequently take the high road when they don't have to or aren't expected to, and above all, they seem to be looking for hope in everything they do. Everyone helps one another, and the bad guys are the people who are only looking to profit. That is, if there are any bad guys at all.
     Uchouten Hotel resembles a stage play in its constant dialogue and lack of any physicality. Action is limited to pratfalls and characters are seldom given close-ups to ruminate on their internal issues. Instead, everybody just breezes through, moving from one crisis to the next, sometimes letting the audience in on what's happening and sometimes bullying into a white lie, and asking us to catch up. It's a bit breathless and sometimes confusing, but Koki Mitani does a fine job with his cinematic juggling act. Despite the numerous intersecting plot threads and situations, the characters are recognizable and identifiable from each another. Each inhabits a particular situation, but characters frequently find themselves crossing over into another character's situation, with well-observed and nearly always satisfying results. This type of narrative juggling is not an easy thing to handle, but Mitani does it effortlessly and entertainingly, never seeming to miss a beat.
     The problems with Uchouten Hotel are all minor and inherent in its very construction. The crisscrossing situations are far from real, the characters are sometimes too involved in their situations to go about their actual business, and sometimes it seems like only five people in total are running this large hotel. We could go ballistic and call these flaws, but if we did, we'd just be ungrateful, nitpicking bastards. Uchouten Hotel is simply light, entertaining and classy, and a welcome break from films pushing heavy, significant themes. The themes at play here are a little rose-colored and pollyannaish, but hey, that's okay. Uchouten Hotel achieves its aims so handily that it deserves whatever credit that it gets - and it certainly did, notching eleven nominations (but no wins, sadly) at the 2006 Japan Academy Awards. Having so many recognizable Japanese actors (including Jo Odagirl, Susumu Terashima, Toshiaki Karasawa, Koichi Sato, Keiko Toda, and more) only adds to the fun. Considering modern Japanese Cinema's usual output - sappy tearjerkers, nationalistic military thrillers, umpteen manga/anime adaptations, Pokemon movies - Uchouten Hotel is more than just a breath of fresh air, it's a gift. (Kozo 2007)
 Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen