A band of amateur thieves, a bag of consommé potato chips, a baseball legend, a life-saving giraffe. A film with such a rag-tag collection of characters and surprises is perhaps too random to sustain plot twists or dramatic reveals. It’s possibly too oddball to deliver an emotional payoff. Yet, that CHIPS leaves even the most jaded festival programmers holding back tears by the end speaks to how deft a work of plotting and characterization it is, and how effortlessly that kookiness is handled, through unexpected laughs and the unlikeliest empathy, by director Yoshihiro Nakamura (A Boy and His Samurai, SDAFF ’11).
It’s a masterpiece of the reveal, with delightful characters slowly accumulating atop each other and propelling the story along bizarre turns and sly flashbacks. A social misfit with savant tendencies (he inadvertently discovers both Newtonian gravity and the Pythagorean Theorem) has a special obsession with a hometown baseball hero. His partner-in-crime is a small-time thief who can’t look anybody in the eye. Director Nakamura himself appears as a failed ballplayer who now prefers to be called “the CEO.” There’s a girlfriend too, and a mother who does what she pleases and steals the show – and the plot.
Avoiding the kind of zany obscurity that many Japanese comedies rely on, CHIPS concocts an enchantment that can’t be explained so much as evoked in pitch-perfect non-sequiturs and metaphoric patterns of uncanny switching: pinch-hitting, trading, upgrading. And then rounding the bases home: finding roots, feeling one’s self-worth, re-discovering a favorite flavor of potato chips. –Brian Hu
Cast: Gaku Hamada, Fumino Kimura, Nao Omori, Eri Ishida