February 27, 2007
Tachigui: The Amazing Lives of the Fast Food Grifters, 2006
Alternately baffling in its unclassifiable lunacy, infectious in its inspired creativity, irresistible in its tongue-in-cheek audacity, and admirable in its visionary integrity, Mamoru Oshii's deliriously off-kilter, rapid fire superlivemation animation feature, Tachigui: The Amazing Lives of the Fast Food Grifters presents an epic, cultural and socio-political survey of twentieth century history (and into the early years of the new century) as idiosyncratically told from the underground mythology of fast food grifters: a group of reputed con artists who - through a collective arsenal of intelligence, charisma, ingenuity, brute strength (or rather, appetite), and even sheer incomprehensibility - have managed to make a successful practice out of talking their way out of paying for tachigui fast food meals from assorted shops throughout Japan, and consequently elevated the art of fast food grifting. The first profile is of Moongaze Ginji, a priest-like elder who emerges from the shadows of the thriving black markets shortly after the end of the Pacific War (and the beginning of American occupation) and who, in his evocation of classical landscape in a bowl of noodles, attempts to kindle the nostalgic sentiment of Japan's rich, cultural past. In the 1950s, as the recovering country was experiencing a "post war economic miracle", a new hero(ine) emerges among the grifter mythology in Foxy Croquette O-Gin, an attractive, liberated, modern women who uses her sensuality and cunning intelligence to equally charm and outwit her gullible (and decidedly male) victims. As Japan sought a symbolic international re-emergence by hosting the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, Crying Inumaru employs a radically different tactic by playing the role of perennial loser - an incisive strategy that, juxtaposed against the seemingly tangential anecdote of Mothra's release, provides an incisive broader comment on the collective amnesia and propensity towards revisionism inherent in the nation's reinvention and self-portrayal as victims in the terrible aftermath of the Pacific War. Within this context of social and historical intersection, the sensationalized death of grifter Cold Badger Masa in the late 1960s may also be seen, not as an act of random violence, but as a reflective symptom of the country's (if not, the world's) increasing radicalization and social upheaval that was ushered by the rise of the Red Army movement. Culminating with a series of characters that reflect the country's transforming (and decidedly, un-Japanese) culinary palate - Beefbowl Ushigoro, Hamburger Tetsu, Frankfurter Tatsu, Medium Hot Sabu - the film serves as a provocative and trenchant satire on the country's inexorable path towards recovery, modernization, consumerism, global assimilation, and cultural dilution.