This year I was fortunate enough to be given press credentials for the 2022 Fantasia International Film Festival. I will be writing about what I watch here and at the Cultural Gutter in Notes and in a final round-up piece in August.
In Shinichiro Ueda’s Popran (Japan, 2022), Akira Tagami (Yoji Minagawa) wakes up one morning to discover that his genitalia—his popran—have flown away. Tagami is the CEO of Rashimban, an online manga application that he founded back in the day with his partner, Yoshida. Tagami is kind of a terrible person. As we discover in the opening, Tagami never visits his parents; he abandoned his wife and daughter; and he forced Yoshida out of the company when Tagami realized that publishing original manga was not profitable.
The news is reporting sightings of “skyfish” and Tagami discovers a QR code in a bathroom that leads him to the Popran Group. Hoping to be reunited with his own popran, Tagami goes to an unfinished basement somewhere in Tokyo to listen to a presentation by Furuta, who tells the gathered men that each of their poprans has “formed its own will and left you.” He explains the science behind this, including the lifecycle of the separated popran, and tells them that they have six days before the popran dies of “malnourishment.” But he also tells his audience, “You know where your popran is.”
Taking time off and getting a special net—the popran can travel up to 200 km/h, easily destroying a regular bug-catching net—Tagami sets off to get his parts back. Tagami’s penis leads him on a journey through all the ways he’s screwed up—from Tokyo to his rural roots. The journey helps Tagami come to terms with what he’s done and who he has hurt while helping him remember who he is–or at least was and could be again, maybe. Popran has some parallels with stories like A Christmas Carol or like Drag Me To Hell (2009) where protagonists are confronted not only with the lives they could have lived, but their own crappiness and given a brief window of opportunity to apologize and take responsibility. Luckily for Tagami the stakes are not quite as high as Hell. And equally luckily for Tagami he has things and people he loves, he’s just let himself drive away. Or more accurately, rocket away at speeds exceeding 150 km/h.
Popran is the latest film from writer / director Shinichiro Ueda, who is probably best known for his delightful and heartfelt horror comedy, One Cut Of The Dead (Japan, 2019). Popran doesn’t engage in the same kind of structural play that One Cut Of The Dead does, but it has a lot of heart. Tagami successfully goes from being a jerk who leads a woman on about her chances of getting published at Rashimban to get her in bed–her chances at the beginning of the film are 0%–to being someone I hope does get his popran back. Tagami is someone who can learn, grow and pay attention to his effect on others. And I appreciate that not everyone will forgive him and not everything he has broken is or can be fixed now. All this with silly dick jokes and slapstick shenanigans.
At the same time, Popran pays attention to cinematic detail. I love the Popran Group’s scientific presentation. There are slides and delightfully ridiculous scientific exposition! I love the details in the set dressing. The mismatched chairs in the Popran Group’s unfinished basement are fantastic. Tagami’s father angrily trimming his toenails while Tagami and his mother eat together is perfect. There is a shot of a cicada singing on a tree that is flawless. Tagami’s clothing goes from very hip suits with loafers (and no socks to show off his anklet) to a terry cloth tanktop and cargo shorts by the end. A movie about an outbreak of “skyfish” (i.e., flying genitalia) doesn’t have to spend time showing Tagami’s transformation from the ideal hip CEO to a regular person through his clothing, but Popran does.
Carol Borden is an editor at and evil overlord of The Cultural Gutter, a website dedicated to thoughtful writing about disreputable art. She was a writer for and editor of the Toronto International Film Festival’s official Midnight Madness and Vanguard program blogs. She has written for Biff Bam Pop, Soldier of Cinema, Mezzanotte, Teleport City, Die Danger Die Die Kill, and Popshifter. She’s appeared on CBC radio, The Projection Booth podcast, The Feminine Critique podcast, and the Infernal Brains podcast. She’s written a bunch of short stories including Godzilla detective fiction, femme fatale mermaids, an adventurous translator/poet, and an x-ray tech having a bad day.You can find them here.