Film review: Something Like, Something Like It – Kenichi Matsuyama in sequel to Yoshimitsu Morita’s 1981 drama
An unlikely relationship between a young comedian and an accomplished older one is the strongest element in a film that fails to connect with the audience when the comedy is lost in translation
One of the most enduring themes in Japanese cinema is the clash between old and new, the struggle of older generations to relate to their successors and preserve traditional aspects of their culture. Whether it be through food, music or theatre, this shifting identity within the country, and the fear its rich heritage will be lost, continue to feature prominently.
Something Like, Something Like It follows this trend on a number of levels. On the surface it is the story of ageing “rakugo” comedians, attempting to re-form their old troupe and commemorate their master’s passing. But the film itself is also director Yasukazu Sugiyama’s tribute to his mentor, filmmaker Yoshimitsu Morita, by reuniting the veteran cast of 1981’s Something Like It for something resembling a belated sequel.
Kenichi Matsuyama plays Shinden, the group’s youngest member, who is tasked with tracking down their star performer Shintoto (Katsunobu Ito), who turned his back on rakugo when their leader died more than a decade earlier. Shinden’s unskilled enthusiasm makes an affectionate counterpoint to Shintoto’s retired eccentric, and their unlikely relationship proves the film’s strongest element.
Where the film struggles to connect with its audience is, ironically, in the pivotal concept of rakugo theatre. A form of on-stage monologue, reliant on clever wordplay and subtle physical gestures, much of the rakugo comedy is lost in translation. The spirited performances from a gifted ensemble, also featuring Denden and Keiko Kitagawa, open the narrative up as best they can, although non-Japanese viewers may feel they’ve missed the punchline.
Something Like, Something Like It opens on February 16
Want more articles like this? Follow SCMP Film on Facebook