Last night Ruth and I and a couple of friends went to see Wakiyaku Monogatari (Cast Me If You Can, literally "The Bit Player's Tale").

Wakiyaku Monogatari is a romantic comedy whose protagonists are an actor, who always plays second fiddle to the lead and lives in the shadow of his famous playwright father, and a young, aspiring actress. They meet accidentally on a train platform where the actress is being accused of being a pickpocket and the actor saves the day by picking up and returning the accuser's wallet, which had been dropped on the train. The actor is a kindly soul who is constantly getting into trouble when trying to do innocent favors. The larger plot turns on his having lost a long-sought chance to play a leading role when a florist hands him a bouquet forgotten by a customer and he chases after her, stumbles and is photographed in what looks like a compromising position with the wife of a prominent politician, who calls his producer and quashes his role.

The film is thoroughly enjoyable if you like this sort of thing and refreshingly different from the action-adventure violence and dystopian vision that dominates the blockbuster circuit. It is also, this anthropologist observes, a comic parade of social issues often talked about in Japan these days: the fraught relationships of slacker sons to successful fathers and the contrast between energetic and ambitious young women and men who lack ambition and seem chronically depressed—plus, in short comic skits, desperate housewives indulging in affairs, corrupt politicians, domestic abuse, underwear stealing perverts, buddies who lend a hand to each other, golden-hearted homeless men, and girls who offer their couches to girlfriends whose boyfriends steal their savings and leave them unable to pay their mortgages. The presentation of the police is particularly interesting, involving as it does not only the actor, who frequently plays cops, but also the real cops who arrest him repeatedly when his good turns get him accused of being a pervert or kidnapper. Two of the cops are women, one the jailer who releases him when his dad comes to bail him out, the other a beat cop who twirls her handcuffs on her finger and winks at him whenever she sees him. There is none of the casual brutality of NYPD Blue or The Shield for example.

P.S. For more about the film, see the article in this morning's Japan Times.

P.P.S. In the picture at the top of the Japan Times article, the policeman is the actor's father, dressing up in the uniform his son wears when he plays bit parts in police procedurals. The gun is a toy gun. The girl in red is the young actress, who has just been given a huge break, a big role in an upcoming film. The scene is from near the end of the movie. How did they all get there? That would spoil the story.

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