I’m a big fan of Shin’ichirô Ueda films, One Cut of the Dead (2017) and Special Actors (2019), so it was easy to select Popran (2022) to watch at Fantasia International Film Festival 2022. What made watching Popran even more fun was that the only thing I knew going into it was that Ueda directed it. It’s a unique premise that opened up plenty of dumb laughs while managing to give room for thought. While I don’t think the film works completely, there is enough there to make it worth watching.
Tagami (Yoji Minagawa), a once successful manager of a manga distribution, has run out of luck. News reports of a mythical Skyfish are on the TV when he wakes up, and he discovers he is missing a piece of himself. Tagami then finds himself attempting to catch a mysterious high-speed fly within six days, all while reflecting back on his choices of whom he cut out of his life in order to get ahead after being questioned by a reporter.
The actual story is quite funny at times. While one could argue that the humor is high school level (and they’d be mostly correct), it’s the juxtaposition of the drama that truly made it gel for me. Furthermore, Minagawa’s performance and the writing by Ueda make him a likable protagonist. There are many movies where a protagonist is a successful man who finds himself looking back at his choices with longing and regret. In many of those stories, though, the guy is unlikable and a total jerk before – and still kind of is. That’s not how Tagami is played or written. He is flawed, but there is still a kindness that emanates from him, and he seems more like a good person who got lost in his ambitions. I really connected with him and was rooting for him.
That’s one of the only issues I have with the film by its conclusion. While I won’t spoil anything in this review, I was left wanting more clarity on the themes Ueda was exploring. There is a bit of world-building to the premise of the Skyfish that felt left unexplored, and I would have loved a little more to the mythology. While it’s not really about that and the allegory is mostly clear, I think the intrigue Ueda builds could use a little more explanation.
While I wasn’t blown away by Popran, I did find it a very enjoyable watch that gave me some things to think about. We learn in the opening news interview that he fired his best friend from their company, left his wife and child to pursue the business, and hadn’t spoken to his mother or father in quite some time since they didn’t support his Manga ambitions. Who have we cut out of our lives, and for what reasons? Were we the ones cut out of someone else’s? Can we ever recapture what we’ve lost? There is a lot here to process for a film that, on its surface, is an extended dick joke. Popran earns the Not Quite Golden, Ponyboy rating.