Might shift this thread to Directors once I get ahold of the rest of Itami's oeuvre. A Taxing Woman 1 & 2 and Supermarket Woman, I might be able to get soon.
The rumours go that the Japanese director Juzo Itami was attacked by the Yakuza due to the realistic and disrespectful portrayal of them in his 1992 comedy The Anti-Extortion Woman or more commonly known as Minbo. Realistic? I cant say for sure. But was it disrespectful? Absolutely. Itami crafted a niche for himself in the early 80s and late 90s with off-kilter comic gems that reveled in their absurdity and dealt with unusual subject matter, starting with his hit, Tampopo. This feature definitely extends that offbeat sense of humour coupled with his darkly tailored undercurrent of social criticism in a simple plot that unfortunately is neither biting nor potent enough to warrant its lengthy runtime and exaggerated mode.
Minbo according to the attorney Mahiru Inoue (Nobuko Miyamoto) is slang, a truncated term for something that lawyers understand as the gentle art of extortion used by the Yakuza. Shes somewhat of an expert in these matters as we see in a promising first scene at the poolside in Hotel Europa, a first-rate hotel competing for the attention of foreign delegates. However, the hotels reputation is tarnished with the continued presence of the different Yakuza families who use the grounds as either meeting/exchange places, lounging areas or even to cheat the hoteliers out of some yen. The boardroom decides on taking action by assembling an Anti-Yakuza force from within but only manages a schmuck accountant and a meathead bellboy, both with plenty to learn about the world they live in. After an inspired introduction to both of them, the film gets down to the nitty-gritty of them failing to get rid of these foul-mouthed, shrewd gangsters. Well, this movie isnt called The Anti-Extortion Woman for nothing. And after about a dubious quarter of the film, we finally get to be truly acquainted with Miss Inoue, which really puts the opening scenes purpose into perspective.
Shes here for a reason and thats to help the hotel and in the process teach these men a thing or two about being men. The film is strongly attuned to its titular character with her presence alone driving the film forward in terms of its comedy and plot. She faces up to overly confident mob bosses and talks them down to the hilt with her legal expertise and well-prepared plans that rely on surveillance and the need to be vigil in the face of overwhelming threats. Its novelty wears thin after awhile though, when she uses the same strategies over and over again with the new gangsters that show up. However, it cant be understated that the films bulk of coherence lies with these scenes as she mentors the hotel into self-defending itself against these thugs.
Nobuko Miyamoto, Itamis wife is often cast in his films in a variety of roles. Her role as Inoue is by far the strongest in the cast that is usually prone to overacting and embarrassingly over-the-top theatrics that can actually be described as vaudevillian. She brings a deep sympathy and caring into her role as a confident but never hubristic seasoned attorney that specialises in Minbo. She never talks down to the dolts in the casts and is believable in her persuasiveness with the Yakuza and Itami wisely revolves an inert comedy around her pint-sized figure being surrounded by pompous, large men that inevitably fall to her knees. She even changes a massive shift in tone by coming up strong in an uneven denouement at the end, finally wising up everyone else to the virtues of being strong even in the face of hardship.
Rating: 3 out of 5