Review by Sean Boelman
Shinichiro Ueda’s sophomore feature One Cut of the Dead became an international cult hit thanks to his unique brand of zaniness, and while his next effort, Special Actors, didn’t receive a worldwide release, it was cut from the same cloth. Popran is arguably Ueda’s wackiest film yet, and while it doesn’t always make the most out of its outlandish premise, it’s absolutely wonderful when it does.
The movie follows a successful CEO whose life goes awry when his genitals spontaneously disappear, flying off as a sentient organism and leaving him six days to catch them before his condition becomes permanent. The concept of flying penises is just as absurd in execution as it sounds, but if anyone was going to be able to pull it off, it was Ueda.
Ueda uses this ridiculous, humorous premise for the purpose of exploring the fragility of the male ego. And while the film is certainly insightful in the way it glimpses into the male mind, it feels very broad with what it has to say. It would have been nice had the movie taken a much harder stance on some of these themes.
The film’s premise does also wear itself a bit thin after a while. There are a few funny moments in the second and third acts, but for the most part, it’s a very one-note script. Once you see the first few jokes, you can tell pretty much exactly where the rest of the movie is going. It still gets a laugh from time to time, but it’s not as riotous as Ueda’s last two efforts.
And while the film tries to make up for that in emotional resonance, it also doesn’t work all the time. There are some really fantastic moments in the movie, but most of the character’s growth follows a pretty standard Scrooge-like arc. And the film doesn’t have enough wacky supporting characters to make up for it.
Still, Yoji Minagawa gives a performance in his leading role that is undeniably exceptional. It’s a role that asks for a lot — doing physical comedy right before pivoting into emotional drama, and having to deliver one of the most ridiculous premises ever done with a straight face. And yet, he manages to do so convincingly.
The world-building of the movie is one of its stronger aspects. Perhaps due to budget, out of fear of censorship, or to not lean too heavily on the immature humor, the film doesn’t show many of the disembodied and sentient flying penises. Nevertheless, Ueda draws the viewer into this uncanny world.
Popran’s concept is nothing short of bizarre, and while it does lead to some hilarious moments and good thematic exploration, it leaves something to be desired. Although Ueda’s big swing is not a home run, it shows that he isn’t running low on creativity.
Popran screened at the 2022 Fantasia International Film Festival, which runs July 14 through August 3.