December 19, 2016

Galaxy Turnpike (2015)

It is the year 2265. Midway between Earth and an outer solar system colony lies the Galaxy Turnpike, where travellers can pull over their spacecraft and relax at a retro-styled Sandsand burger joint. Inside the husband and wife team of Noa (Shingo Katori) and Noe (Haruka Ayase) operate the kitchen while coping with a disintegrating marriage and a dwindling number of customers.

Galaxy Turnpike, a Japanese comedy directed by Koki Mitani, essentially works as a series of inter-connected comedic vignettes. In one booth a fussy businessman (Kanji Ishimaru) negotiates with a hard-sell pimp (Koji Yamamoto) to have sex with an alien sex worker for the first time. In another, a company auditor (Yasunori Danta) begins to hallucinate a mime artist and a range of cartoon animals. In a third, a nervous police officer (Shun Ogiri) struggles to reveal to his captain (Kenji Anan) that he is actually an Ultraman-style superhero named Captain Socks.

The film is definitely too long at 109 minutes, and could easily benefit from getting trimmed by a solid 10 to 15 minutes. It is also at its slowest during its opening scenes, which makes it quite a chore to watch until the various storylines are established and begin working at their best. Once up and running, however, Galaxy Turnpike is a nonsense-filled romp. Some scenes obviously work better than others, but it never stops being at least pleasantly amusing. There is a strange sort of theatrical quality to the film: director Koki Mitani has a long career in theatrical comedy, and you could easily imagine the bulk of Galaxy Turnpike appearing live on stage without significant difficulty.

The core of the film focuses on Noe and Noa and their struggling marriage. Noe wants out: he's written an application to leave managing the restaurant and relocate to Earth. His dour, controlled demeanour is disrupted by the arrival of his ex-girlfriend (Yuka) and her new alien husband (Zen Kajihara), a laconic who looks like Star Trek's Mr Spock only with a metre-long tentacle-like tongue. Noe goes through a whole crisis about whether he made the right choice to abandon his girlfriend for Noa - a crisis made surreal by the fact that his ex-girlfriend's hair is inexplicably a massive flowering shrub. At the same time Noe is surprised when Mendes, the alien she hired to remodel the restuarant (Kenichi Endo), strips down to PVC festishwear and proclaims his undying love for her.

The reluctant auditor has perhaps the film's best sequence: he begins to hallucinate solid objects, including a creepy mime (Kazuyuki Asano) who copies every gesture he makes as well as a cartoon dog from his childhood. The integration of cel animation into live action is comparatively primitive, but easily serves its comedic purpose.

Two unexpected highlights are Shinobu Otake as a sullen elderly fry cook with electrical super-powers, and pop star TM Revolution (aka Takanori Nishikawa) as a nervous frog-like customer who spends the bulk of the film sitting quietly eating his burger in a growing puddle.

Galaxy Turnpike starts slow, and keeps a very modest ambition throughout, but if given enough time to settle in it becomes rather charming. There's a lot of silly humour going on here, and while some of it is very hit-and-miss, it did win me over in the end. It's a strange little film.

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