The Seaside Motel (Japan, 2010)

The latest guest to check-in at the shambolic Seaside Motel – which is actually located in a mountain region – is Masayuki (Toma Ikuta), a traveling representative for a company that specialises in the ‘revolutionary’ skin cream Kuragen 2. He tells potential customers that the product that has been ‘made with collagen extracted from deep water jellyfish and blended with deep water from the Arctic Ocean’, but it is actually just a cheap imitation of superior creams that is unlikely to have any long-term effect. As much as Masayuki is cheating his customers, he has, in turn, been cheated by his boss; after being promised ‘air conditioned dorms and twice-a-year company vacations’, Masayuki often ends-up sleeping in his car and has been forced to spend time in rural areas with little sales potential. The community he has just arrived in seems to consist of only ice cream eating police officers and stray dogs, indicating that he will struggle to sell his cosmetics to the required quota of fifty old ladies. While sulking about the state of his career, Masayuki receives a visit from Candy (Kumiko Aso), an eager-to-please call girl from the local ‘Love Me, Call Me’ agency who soon realises that she has been sent to the wrong room, but still tries to sell her services to the guest. A battle-of-wits between the two ‘salespeople’ develops, from which genuine attraction begins to emerge. However, the disillusioned Masayuki is not the only guest at the inappropriately-named Seaside Motel; a couple trying to put the spark back into their marriage through role play, a man who likes extra-tall women and his yoga-practising girlfriend and a gambler whose yakuza creditors have just caught up with him, are also renting rooms, so the film cuts back and forth to show how their short stays are interconnected.

Based on a manga by Yukio Okada, the ensemble comedy The Seaside Motel could have been conceived as a vehicle for a comedy troupe, such is the manner of its construction; a collection of skits based around a single location with the broad characterisations offering the opportunity to poke fun at the kind of people who stay at such low-rent motels as the titular establishment. Instead, writer and director Kentaro Moriya casts a bunch of familiar faces from the worlds of film and television – including Instant Swamp (2009) leading lady Aso and Norwegian Wood (2010) supporting player Tetsuji Tamayama – in the hope of achieving a combination of audience appeal and comedic chemistry. Moriya found success with the comedy School Daze (2005) but has since specialised in television, most notably the twelve-part series Tonsure (2008); his small screen background is evident in The Seaside Motel which is often a little flat in execution, with colourful costumes and set designs lending a forced sense of quirkiness in absence of original visual style. With each story strand being allocated roughly equal screen time, each member of the ensemble cast needs to achieve comedic consistency, even when working within their own sections of the haphazard narrative, but some have more material to mine laughs out of than others. The yakuza section has its moments – mainly from a time-killing game to see if the next five people who walk past the window will all be male, and a torture session that entails the arrival of the surprisingly meek mob enforcer Pepe (Yoichi Nukumizu) – but bargain supermarket owner Arata (Katsutoshi Ota) is saddled with a lame drag gag after being dressed-up by his pachinko-loving wife Misaki (Hijiri Kojima), while ‘tall woman fetishist’ Tetsuhiro (Tatsuya Ishizuka) gets stuck with a severe case of bad back after a sexualised yoga session.

The best scenes in The Seaside Motel involve the burgeoning romance between down-on-his-luck salesman Masayuki and happy hooker Candy, with Ikuta and Aso pulling off a playful exercise in unanticipated human connection amid the otherwise farcical proceedings. Their relationship is instigated as a game of one-upmanship, with Ikuta trying to sell his skin cream to the call girl for 35,000 yen, while she tempts him to spend the same amount on her ‘services’; both eventually acknowledging that they want something real in their lives after becoming tired of the lies that they peddle to their respective customers, even though their ruminations on life never get deeper than, ‘I sell fake skin cream, you sell fake love’. Both actors are terrific, finding the balance between the off-kilter humour of the rest of the film with the romantic longing of their characters; after listening to Masayuki speculate on why she works in the sex industry, Candy explains that she chose her profession simply because she likes sex, an admission to which Masayuki can merely mutter, ‘Oh, I see.’ Such amusing exchanges and deadpan timing are sadly absent from the other story-strands, meaning that The Seaside Motel is less successful when spending time with other guests whose characterisations rarely rise about caricature, or are subservient to running gags concerning car crashes or the inconvenience caused by the (never-seen) management of the motel using such money-saving measures as turning off the water after 9pm. Those viewers who enjoy offbeat Asian humour will be occasionally amused by the episodic hijinks of The Seaside Motel, and the relative brevity of the enterprise will ensure that they do not feel the urge to check-out before the end credits, but it is unlikely that even connoisseurs of Japanese comedy will make a repeat visit to this particular cinematic establishment.

The Seaside Motel will be shown at the Japan Society as part of the annual Japan Cuts film festival on Saturday, July 16 at 4:30PM. Director Kentaro Moriya will be in attendance for this screening.  For tickets, visit the Japan Cuts event page here.