After the deluge of crude, star infused, sexually ambiguous comedies to emerge from Hollywood’s uninspired script doctors, its more than refreshing to be indulged by the idiosyncratic social commentary and droll comedic styling of Ryuichi Honda’s
Released in its native Japan in 2011 and based on a screenplay by comic Shiro Maeda, who adapted his own novel, A Honeymoon in Hell is an audacious and genuine example of how arbitrary and charming the Japanese sense of humour can be; delivering a rich comedic prowess drawn from the tribulations of modern city living and Tokyo’s increasingly disenfranchised twenty-somethings.
Opening in a small Tokyo apartment, Honda wastes no time in introducing us to the socially lethargic newlyweds Saki (Asami Mizukawa) and Nobuyuki (Yutaka Takenouchi) Oki as they recover from their big day. Struggling with free time and waning enthusiasm for the impending future, the pair idly debate their missing rice steamer as they unpack the numerous boxes littering their new apartment. Reluctantly, Saki submits to the inevitable and in hopes of buying a new steamer, heads off to a local department store where she encounters a bizarre fortuneteller and her mannequin-like assistant who, as it turns out, doubles as a successful travel agent for Hell. Even more intriguing is the revelation that her original rice steamer has also made its way to Hell.
After little deliberation, and with little else to do, the Okis agree to a short trip to Hell in hopes of retrieving their appliance, and perhaps indulging Hell’s renowned hot-springs. However, after arriving via a filthy bathtub located on the department store’s roof, the Oki’s quickly discover Hell isn’t all that the tourist brochures had promised as the local residents, the aggressive nonsensical Reds and the more subdued Blues, begin to spark both concern and irritation in the honeymooners. Making matters worse their room, accessible only by stairs, is located on the 22th floor, while the fabled hot-springs, on the 46nd floor, turn out to be a perilous unisex ocean of beef stew. Even worse, Hell’s renowned cuisine gives the couple a whole new perspective on ‘fresh food’ while souvenir shopping is akin to conducting ram-raids on the homeless.
Without a hint of Catholic influence or Dante’s folk lore, A Honeymoon in Hell is unashamedly metaphoric and indulgently surreal, thankfully circumventing the cynicism that could easily have tainted Maeda’s fable. Instead Honda, with ample assistance from his exceptional cast, deliver a rich multi-faceted upbeat comedy, full of witty commentary, heartfelt sentiment and visual absurdity that unfurls like a Tim Burton meets Charlie Kaufman dreamscape.