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Non-Review Review: People Just Do Nothing – Big in Japan

People Just Do Nothing: Big in Japan has had an interesting journey to the big screen.

People Just Do Nothing began as an online video series, before transitioning to BBC Three and then to BBC Two. The mockumentary comedy accrued a cult following, and so it’s refreshing to see much of the cast and crew given the chance to take the concept to a cinematic adaptation. There’s something inherently charming in this comedy concept built around a bunch of unqualified (and perhaps even untalented) local pirate DJs getting to make their own feature film that takes the characters and the cast to Japan. (It is also, for example, fascinating to see the characters fronting an anti-piracy public service announcement.)

The band at a crossroads.

Big in Japan has a lot of work to do, both in appealing to fans of the series and in winning over potential new converts. The movie is designed to function both as a culmination of the characters’ journey and paradoxically as an introduction to the characters. It’s a lot to ask from a feature film, particularly a comedy, and Big in Japan occasionally stumbles under the weight of those competing demands. Big in Japan is at its weakest when it’s trying to craft a story that is at once a satisfying development for long-term followers these characters while also being universal enough to work for audiences new to this world.

Big in Japan works best in its smaller moments, when it commits to individual jokes rooted in particular character. It falters when it sacrifices those strengths in the hopes of advancing the big picture. Big in Japan is arguably at its best when it goes small, a lesson that the film tries to impart to its own characters.

Toasts of Tokyo.

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All’s Welles That Ends Welles: “The Other Side of the Wind” and a Sense of Seventies Timelessness…

There is a tendency to think of the current moment as the most important moment; call it “modernity bias.”

There is a certain egocentricism inherent in this premise, in the idea that this moment when we exist will always be the most important moment. On a purely philosophical level, there may some truth in the idea. After all, this is the one moment when we actually get to make a decision and exercise agency, this is the one moment where a course of action can be changed. Of course, people have made decisions in the past and can plan for the future, but this is the moment that exists right now. It’s understandable to think of the current moment in such terms.

Sometimes this can make it hard to engage with popular culture outside of those terms. Of course, a lot of popular culture is defined by the moment in which it was released. It would be hard to separate All the President’s Men (or even conspiracy thrillers like The Conversation or The Parallax View) from the cultural paranoia of the seventies, just as it would be hard to divorce films like Fight Club (or The Matrix) from the pre-millennial anxieties that informed them. This is not to suggest that these movies lack relevance outside their moments, but instead to acknowledge they are rooted in their times.

In most cases, works are released relatively close to the time at which they were produced, meaning that audiences and critics respond to these films in the context in which they were made. Audiences reacting to films like All The President’s Men or Fight Club were very much in step with the culture that informed it, and so there was a strong communion between what the film was saying and what the audience was hearing. Indeed, any critical reevaluation of these works exists in conversation with the original evaluation, and so the cultural conversation about these works of art tends to move forward from a fixed point.

However, this creates a challenge in assessing works that exist outside of that template. “Lost” works that have been recovered. “Incomplete” works that have been finished. Even older works that have been revisited. It is, for example very hard to separate Doug Liman’s reworked 2018 director’s cut of his 2010 film Fair Game from the context of its later release, specifically President Donald Trump’s pardoning of a key official involved in the events depicted in the film. It becomes an even bigger challenge when dealing with a work that is seeing the light of day for the first time years removed from its original context.

Is The Other Side of the Wind a lost seventies film, or is it a film for the closing of the second decade of the twenty-first century? Is it both? Is it neither? Is it something else entirely?

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