In case you didn't hit the link on rakugo, it's a traditional Japanese theatrical form that goes back with kabuki and bunraku. It's essentially a comedic monologue, very stripped down (the performer has two props, a folding fan and a hand towel, which he uses to represent a wide range of objects). In Wakeful Nights, rakugo stays mainly in the background; an old master of the art dies, and the members of his troupe hold a wake. This is followed by more wakes, as other members of the group proceed to expire (hence the pun on "wakeful" in the title).
Hats off to my friend David Rowe-Caplan who translated this (and many another) film for Animeigo. He's the guy who comes up with all that onscreen gloss to explicate linguistic difficulties in the subtitles. He sure had his hands full on this project. He told me it was the hardest subtitling job he's ever had to do because of all the Japanese puns he had to explain. Add to that the fact that the puns are mostly obscene, and you begin to understand his conundrum; it's hard enough to get across subtle shades of meaning, but how do you subtly explain a pussy joke?
And there's a ton of pussy jokes on offer. And dick jokes. And shit jokes. The stuff people say in this film is as outrageous as the stuff they do. Be warned, however, it starts off a little slow with an extended death bed scene (albeit brightened by a last request for one final gander at a "honey pot" … ).
The ensemble cast is pitch-perfect. If you've seen a lot of Beat Takeshi films, you'll recognize baggy-eyed Ittoku Kishibe as the son of the rakugo master (nice to see him in something other than a dour, underworld persona). Then there's Kiichi Nakai -- he was the country bumpkin ronin who somehow wins the battle of Toba-Fushimi single-handedly in When the Last Sword is Drawn (2003, see my review in Warring Clans, Flashing Blades). Then of course there's Hiroyuki Nagato who plays the old master. He's been kicking around since the 50s, appearing in films like The Warped Ones, Pigs and Battleships, The Insect Woman, Bandits vs. Samurai Squadron and over 100 more.
Wakeful Nights is also notable for being the directorial debut of Masahiko Tsugawa, grandson of legendary silent film director Masahiro Makino and prolific actor in his own right. He got his start in sun tribe films like Crazed Fruit and The Sun's Burial and has been working consistently ever since (he played Shingen Takeda in samurai epic Heaven and Earth -- see my review in Stray Dogs & Lone Wolves).
So my advice to you is absolutely check out Wakeful Nights. If you're like me and have a somewhat sick sense of humor I guarantee by the end you'll be howling!
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