Monday, 14 June 2010

Japan versus Cameroon: University of Laughs (Warai no Daigaku)

This 2004 film, based on the play, follows the power struggle between a comic writer and a censor. Set in war-time Japan, the all-powerful censor finds himself slowly being drawn into caring about the writer’s silly little play as it is submitted time and time again.

The move from granite-faced official to collaborator (in the writing sense) is deftly done and only becomes apparent in one glorious scene when, in trying to prove a point, asks the censor to help act it out. At first the censor is stiff and awkward, but after a few attempts he starts to get into it and the look of child-like glee when he starts acting is quite touching.

Ultimately, despite it’s specific place and time in history, this is a universal story about censorship. But rather than a finger-wagging diatribe about how bad governments are, it’s more of a celebration of the things that censorship denies us – as the censor finds his world enriched by the exchange of ideas with the writer, the idea that society too can be similarly enriched is writ large throughout the film.

But there’s still no PAL DVD release, and it’s lack of fame means it’s unlikely to get one. I only know about it because a friend happened to watch it on a flight to Germany. Another undiscovered treasure.


  1. An undiscovered treasure perhaps, but you didn't mention that one of the main characters is played by Goro of SMAP, a man who CAN NOT ACT. I kept wondering what a real actor might have brought to the role. Poor planning on my part, I watched it the same week as Raijo no Jikan/Welcome Back, Mr McDonald, and it seemed a pale examination of the same theme of harassed writer.

  2. It's true, I've seen Goro act so badly it was funny but I think he does well in this film. It would be interesting to see what someone else would do with the role, though.

    Come to think of it, Mitani Kouki's films often seem to have people from SMAP in them. What's going on there?

    I saw this before I saw Rajio no Jikan, so I guess my experience was the opposite. Both films are about writers having to rewrite stuff, but I thought the war setting gave University of Laughs more emotional punch. Harrassed writers are a bit of a recurring theme in his work. I think he's trying to tell us something.