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Feb 28 2013

Princess Toyotomi (Review)

Princess Toyotomi
Review by David Cirone

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Princess Toyotomi is a charming light comedy about fathers and sons, national and personal identity.

Dispatched from Tokyo to audit use of national funds, a trio of accountants led by Hajime Matsudaira (Shinichi Tsutsumi) arrives in Osaka to hit the books. Right away we’re introduced to their quirky characteristics: Audit Bureau Chief “Devil” Matsudaira is known for never smiling, but has a sweet tooth for ice cream. Assistant Audit Bureau member Asahi prefers to go by the affected nickname “Gainsbourg,” which contrasts his uptight personality with the name of a French composer known for steamy and provocative lyrics. Torii (Haruka Ayase) has an insatiable appetite for food and a penchant for being nosy.

Early on, it’s clear nosiness may serve its purpose in their visit to Osaka, as the city government hurriedly prepares for their visit, whispering strict instructions not to engage the auditors in conversation. They uncover a few minor mistakes here and there, but the real jackpot seems to be inside the small historical preservation society, the H.R.H.

The H.R.H. seems to be empty, sandwiched in an alleyway next to an okonomiyaki restaurant.The aging Nagaso (Takashi Sasano) finally welcomes them inside and offers the auditors full access to their records. The H.R.H.’s books are clean, and but when Matsudaira returns to fetch his missing cell phone, the entire staff has disappeared. “Devil” Matsudaira investigates, and his persistence reveals the existence of a secret, independent government underneath Osaka, kept alive for 400 years to preserve the lineage of the Toyotomi dynasty long though extinct. Will Matsudaira expose their secret?

Director Masayuki Suzuki (Hero, GTO: Great Teacher Onizuka) crafts a perfect balance of suspense and warmth in Princess Toyotomi, wisley choosing to begin the film with a startling flash-forward of Haruka Ayase running through the streets of a deserted downtown Osaka. The historical elements are handled with precision, but not overdone, and the ominous red glow over Toyotomi Castle in Matsudaira’s memory is both scary and majestic.

There’s a lot of comedy, too, and I really enjoyed the synchronized accounting and the dry character humor. Kiichi Nakai does a great job of delivering truckloads of exposition, and he keeps it interesting because he invests his character so completely in his mission. The proud independence of Osaka and the safety of the secret Princess must be protected at all costs.

The suspense falters during the film’s ending scenes with the whole adult population of Osaka gathered for revolt. The extended speeches soften the climax, but Princess Toyotomi isn’t meant to be an adventure, even if I wanted it to be. It’s a fine acting showcase that delivers its message with subtlety and class.