Following her international breakthrough in 2017 with “Aspen All You Want,” Akiko Ohku rose to prominence for her quirky comedies about a single woman’s search for love. And it had a populist twist: “Aspen All You Want,” which starred Mayu Matsuoka as a nerdy office worker obsessed with her college crush, and the 2020 romantic comedy “Hold Me Back,” which stars Rena Nonen (better known as Non) as an office clerk who receives romantic advice from a voice in her head, both won Audience Awards at the Tokyo International Film Festival.
Ohku’s new film, the upbeat comedy wedding disaster “Wedding High” – scripted by comedian Hidetomo Masuno, aka Bakarhythm – represents a change in direction if not its aim to entertain: unlike the films mentioned above, it is of an ensemble piece, with the ostensible star, TV series veteran Ryoko Shinohara, not taking center stage until nearly 40 minutes later.
Shinohara plays Maho Nakagoshi, a spark plug wedding planner who loves his job. She and her staff are dedicated to providing newlyweds with the perfect wedding, even when their clients are driving them crazy with impossible requests. In this regard, “Wedding High” resembles the many Japanese films in which a team unites to earnestly overcome obstacles, while delivering a collective shoutout to the men (and women) of organization in the audience.
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The movie differs in that it’s light on its feet and even laugh-out-loud funny, although to understand the gags it helps to have experienced (or endured) a typical Japanese wedding reception, which has elements both Western (cutting the cake) and Japanese (the couple’s bosses each give speeches).
This story, however, begins with the central pair, Haruka Nitta (Nagisa Sekimizu) and Akihito Ishikawa (Tomoya Nakamura), planning their big event. The myriad of decisions to be made excite Haruka, but annoy Akihito, though he never shows it to good effect. We also get a quick look at their respective pasts, including Haruka’s longtime relationship with former classmate Yuya (Takanori Iwata), which ended abruptly.
In the difficult process of deciding who to invite, Yuya is predictably left out. When he hears about the wedding, he decides to crush it, with the help of two carefree buddies.
Finally, the reception begins, but the long, albeit hilarious (for the guests) speeches by the couple’s respective bosses result in an hour behind schedule. How can Maho and his colleagues miraculously make up for lost time?
Their solutions have a crazed sheen born of desperation and are staged with brilliance and wit, though the slapstick comedy of Yuya’s encounter with a wedding gift thief uses crude humor for its payoff laughs. Having seen my share of Japanese TV variety shows, where said humor abounds, I was more inclined to groan.
Even so, with Shinohara’s relatively frazzled performance as Maho serving as ballast, the film remains firmly grounded in the real-world agonies and ecstasies of Japanese-style weddings. In fact, it’s an instructive viewing for aspiring wedding planners and future wedding attendees.
Lesson One: When your intention asks for your opinion on anything marriage-related, “I leave it up to you” is the wrong answer. And ex-lovers better drop any fantasy of changing the bride or groom’s mind at the altar. “The Graduate,” which “Wedding High” references but doesn’t imitate, was just a movie.
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