The Wow-Choten Hotel (Suite Dreams) — movie review
Posted on November 3, 2006 by Chris Nelson
New Years Eve is a big deal in the states, but even more so in Japan. Think of our Christmas preparations times two. At the Avanti, a plush Five Star Tokyo hotel, the New Years Eve excitement is ramped up even further than the norm, as the night sees not only preparations for New Year’s Festivities, but for multiple performances, the hosting of a quirky little convention, and the arrival of a political bigwig. Needless to say, the pressure on the hotel staff is through the roof. With so much to do, the Hotel Avanti’s intrepid troupe sees little to no time for even for crafting simple resolutions. But fate being mischievous as the night is long, the close of the 31st will see more than a handful of their carefully laid plans run through the ringer. The resulting series of rapid-fire comedic mishaps, while certainly frustrating for those involved, will change the lives of both the Hotel staff and guests forever.
The Wow-Choten Hotel (aka: Suite Dreams) is a true throwback to the frenetic comedies of the 1940’s; the type of comedy where time is of the essence, and everything that can go wrong does. This sort of energy was recently tapped by American entries such as A Prairie Home Companion, but unlike Prairie Home, none of the energy in Wow-Choten is wasted. Every bit of fussing is integral to the plot, and every action every character takes is intricately tied to some other character’s situation, inadvertently aiding or hindering their progress through the night. To be honest, this is not writer/director Koki Mitani’s first attempt at such fare — he also handled 1997’s excellent Welcome Back Mr. McDonald. But for the most part feel good comedies don’t usually see this sort of attention to detail. The skilled interweaving of plot elements, combined with the expert delivery of the performers helps maintain the film’s rapid clip, carrying it through its 135 minute runtime.
Being a New Years film, Wow-Choten has quite the strong message of pursuing one’s dreams, self truth, and new beginnings. Near every character goes through some period of self doubt and charade, finding themselves unhappy with their current situation and deciding to act the part of the person they perceive others would prefer them to be. Heikichi Shindo’s (Koji Yakusho) fear his ex wife won’t respect him as a mere concierge leads him to pose at the Hotel’s manager. Kenji Tadano (Shingo Katori)’s fear of failure leads him to give up his music career. Hana Takemoto (Takako Matsu)’s dissatisfaction with her own status as a hotel maid leads her to pretend she is the pampered mistress of a wealthy old man. This is just a small sampling, of course, but suffice it to say that only through the course of the night do the staff and the guests learn to trust their instincts, and revel in the comfort of their true self.
Similar to the aforementioned Prairie Home, Koki Mitani employs an ever-moving steady-cam to catch all the action. But his camera is no mere spectator, but rather an extension of each character’s personality. Although it skims along from room to room, it exhibits noticeably different behavior in the presence of different characters. As a small example, Koji Yakusho’s character is framed in a loving and familiar fashion, while the Detective is framed in a dramatic manner evoking the mood of classic noir and detective stories. It is an excellent touch, and supplements the conveyance of the characters personalities to the audience.
Furthermore, Koki Mitani exhibits a deft touch with his actors. Admittedly he has an excellent cast to work with (Koji Yakusho, Hana Takemoto, Keiko Toda, and Dreamlogic fave, Susumu Terajima) but each performance seems custom engineered to pull just the right emotional response, whether it be laughter, sadness, joy, or mere satisfaction. Even with excellent actors it takes an adept director to coax such natural emotion.
The Wow-Choten Hotel is not without its problems however. Despite its lengthy runtime, there are a few unresolved plot threads that would have been nice to see tied down. Furthermore, given all the excitement around the various acts, it would have been nice to see them for longer than the simple camera swoop they receive. Lastly, certain characters such as Cherry Sakura (You) don’t quite match up with the rest of the cast, and receive a tad more screen time than they probably should.
In closing, The Wow-Choten Hotel is a delightful comedy. Though it does have its flaws, they are minor, and the film should prove the perfect remedy for the holiday stresses ahead.
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