When Naoto is offered the chance to take over his father’s sake brewery, he sees a final opportunity to settle a long-standing personal matter before taking on the responsibility of the family business: he decides to find an ex-girlfriend from America with whom he has lost contact. Armed with nothing more than her address in California and a photograph, he visits relatives in LA to ask for advice. Unlike his mild-mannered Japan-born cousin, Sebastian is a loud-mouthed, US-born small-time video blogger who has recently broken up with his own girlfriend and is at a loose end so, with a bit of persuasion, reluctantly agrees to help.
As its name implies, Sake-Bomb is a culture clash film and works off the chemistry between its two leads as they embark on their journey and try to make sense of their respective personal predicaments. Director Junya Sakino was born and raised in Japan before moving to the US to pursue his career in the film industry, and screenplay writer Jeff Mizushima is a Japanese-American, so it’s a logical choice of subject matter considering how both have first-hand experience of living in the USA and being of Asian descent.
In today’s climate of young media personalities who use social networks extensively to make their voices heard, especially when it comes to social issues and popular culture Sake-Bomb can, I think, find a broader audience than most Japanese independent cinema. Its frankness in tackling cultural stereotypes head-on has some charm: although Sebastian’s confrontational and abrasive approach to highlighting his personal views and experiences paints him as difficult and obnoxious, the topics he talks about are very relevant. Naoto may not have the attention-grabbing quality that his travelling companion has, but his role is crucial in balancing the dynamic on-screen because he's the far more mature and likeable of the two.
Humour is a particularly subjective aspect when judging a comedy film, and often makes or breaks whether the production as a whole works for each viewer. If sardonic, expletive-riddled comedy that delivers social commentary right in your face is your thing, this movie will really click with you but if it doesn’t, the entire effort will probably leave you cold. I’m personally all for satire and sarcasm, but Sake-Bomb also relies on cringe-inducing gags that frequently involve the characters experiencing embarrassing situations; this didn't work as well for me, and I found myself wishing those scenes of self-inflicted awkwardness away. Subtle it certainly isn’t, but it’s still something I can recommend as long as you don’t find this particular type of comedy off-putting or uncomfortable.
Sake-Bomb walks a tightrope of sorts in that it tries to address serious issues surrounding ignorance and casual racism, but doing so in a fun way while ensuring the jokes don’t fall flat. In all honesty, it’s only partially successful: I managed to latch on to what I felt its core intentions were, and its approach works well when it’s delivered by such self-depreciating characters. Unfortunately the serious undercurrent is sometimes lost in the delivery, making very meaningful and important points but diluting them with crude humour and rather obvious and predictable road trip/buddy movie tropes.
I’ve not personally tried the mixed drink that inspires the film’s title, but it’s a metaphor that sums up the film well on a number of levels. The underlying themes of responsibility and selflessness, rounded off with a strangely satisfying ambiguous ending, are the sort of things that I associate with Japanese cinema; the bold wisecrack comedy, the road trip and the contrast between the fish-out-of-water and streetwise know-it-all sidekick are more associated with US comedy movies. Perhaps that’s just me generalising there, but being aware of that fact is actually the film’s point: it draws attention to how we make sweeping statements about people based on tired stereotypes and outward appearances. This film takes every opportunity to remind you of that, even though its execution is rather clumsy.
From a technical standpoint Sake Bomb is nothing spectacular, although it is a humble indie film in an "everyday" setting, so this doesn’t prove to be an issue in the end. Its predictability is the main problem it faces, because you can see how a certain scene or gag is going to pan out so the end result doesn’t feel as brisk as its relatively short running time would suggest. Ultimately, the performances from the two leads and the honest intentions beneath the comedy are what save it from outright failure.