Review by: Andrew Chan FCCA AACTA
Review Date: 9th November 2012
Reviewed as part of 16th Japanese Film Festival [JFF], Sydney and releasing in cinemas across Hong Kong from 18th October 2012
Hong Kong Box Office Taking: HK$1,498,789
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Turning popular manga into live-action film have always been the Japanese forte and with the hugely successful “Thermae Romae” this is no exception. The film took the Japanese box office by storm by taking nearly $75 million and despite an interesting premise of an Ancient Roman leaping through time into modern day Japan, the film falls flat in the middle and the numerous time leap becomes more cliché than exciting. All these probably makes a wonderful manga experience, but as a film, it is wholly average.
“Thermae Romae” is probably as epic as it gets in terms of adaptation from Japanese manga into live-action films. From the wonderful vision of Ancient Rome to the grand Roman baths, the film attention to detail is second to none. In fact, the first quarter of the film seems rather promising and the idea of an Ancient Roman leaping through time into modern day Japan to steal ideas in making baths, spas, saunas and fruit flavored bottled milk, all provides the film with an intriguing backdrop. However, the film becomes repetitive and rather predictable and that’s a shame as “Thermae Romae” clearly works better as a manga than an live-action film.
Abe Hiroshi is probably a credible lead and as the key protagonist, Lucius Modestus provides some good comic timing, but lacks the required expressions in some key melodramatic moments. While, it may be fun and induces a few spot of laughter by acting dumb and being fish out of the water (literally and figuratively) in modern day Japan. The audience becomes tire of the same running gag that worked once or maybe twice, but not for an entire duration of a 100 minutes film. Another issues is the questionable chemistry between Hiroshi and Aya Ueto (our little heroine in the highly brutal “Azumi” series). Aya Ueto is an attractive actress and there is something about her that makes the glue us to the screen, but despite her best efforts, her role seems limited and rather forced. One can understand a mutual attraction, but the pairing seems far too predictable and contrived as in many other parts of the film. Kazuki Kitamura as the lead villain in the role of Ceionius is probably the most one-dimensional character that I have witness for a long time. Other supporting actors are either wholly average or below par, which does nothing to help the cause.
Director Hideki Takeuchi has made a lot of Japanese TV series, but lacks the credential to handle a big budget film production. In fact, there are times, when the film feels as though it is a TV series and the characters development seems like a backdrop to the grand epic Ancient Rome than the other way around. One clear example of an ongoing joke gone bad, is the overused opera singing effect that happens during every time leaping journey. In fact, this gag is used so often that the film ends on that note. Sure, it is fun to witness it for a few times, but a few more actually got on my nerves.
All in all, “Thermae Romae” is most probably the kind of film that works as manga or on TV, but for film to work, it cannot simply just rehash the manga material. Perhaps, Hakeuchi should take a leaf out of Hollywood’s numerous rehash of comic book materials, they do not simply go page by page adaptation, but rather uses the themes, the characters, the issues and the storyline as an inspiration, take Dark Knight for example. While, it is probably an exaggeration to compare this film with its Hollywood counterparts as it is catered for the local Japanese audience and it clearly worked for them in taking $75 million odd dollars. However, as film on an international scale, “Thermae Romae” fails to relate, loses life by the quarter mark and far too many repetitive humor along the way. Still, “Thermae Romae” is far from a total failure, but a film of such epic proportion, one would expect a tad more than being just average. (Neo 2012)
I rated it 6/10