Symbol / しんぼる
Comedy recapitulates ontogeny in Hitoshi Matsumoto’s strange and wonderful new film, Symbol. Matsumoto, who made a huge name for himself with the Manzai comedy team, Downtown, knows comedy inside and out. He turned to film direction a few years ago and hit big in 2007 with Dainipponjin, a brilliant exploration of the Japanese psyche through giant monsters and superheroes. Symbol works like a sprawling comedic deconstruction marrying Frank Tashlin sense of the comic with Stanly Kubrick’s sense of the cosmic – and vice versa. Symbol not only reflects deeply on the world and the repercussions of individual choice, but also about comedy itself. Gags range from the obvious and juvenile to the most arcane and obscure. An entire subplot about a Mexican family that takes up nearly half of the screen time seems to be an elaborate setup for a joke that is meant to fall flat. Like being in the Skinner box where the other half of the movie takes place, Symbol is like a rich experimental chamber where one can only expect the unexpected.
Originally published in EL Magazine, September 2009