Warai no daigaku / University of Laughs

Warai no daigaku / University of Laughs (2004)

Shown: 1/3 of the movies sets. Not shown: Comedy

Director: Hoshi Mamoru
Writers: Mitani Koki
Date: 2004

Genre: Comedy
Description: Writing a comedy play, 1940’s Japan, censorship, improving your script, an odd duo, stage play turned movie, play within a play within a play within a movie…?

Cast: Yakusho Koji, Inagaki Goro

Crew of note:

Runtime: 121 mins.
Color: Color
Trivia: Based on Mitani Koki’s play

Hajime is writing a play for his troupe, but there’s a new censure in town, Sakisaka Mutsuo, and he takes his job pretty seriously. The writer brings his play for approval, but it is deemed “not nationalistic enough.” The stern but amusingly enthusiastic censure decides to give him some tips. Laughing happy funtimes ensue!

With only two recurring characters, 3 settings (censors office, street, theater), two chairs and a table, the movie may seem simplistic. The plot certainly suggests so. As a slapstick comedy, its potential for big laughs is generally the only thing that audiences look for. What you will find here, however, is an intelligent script about the nature of scriptwriting that delivers both laughs and insight into playwriting. I suppose you can call it “meta”, because even though it doesn’t self-reference itself as a comedy, its background as a comedy play about writing comedy plays, and the way the movie relies on the unpredictability of the writing process as its plot, source of comedy, and main narrative structure… maybe you should over-analyze after the movie’s over instead. Anyway!

The laughs. Yes, the movie is funny, and even funnier if you know Japanese (some of the puns will escape you otherwise, even with the best subtitles). The two characters are enthusiastic about their work, move in the same way as their period contemporary comedies (exaggerated movements and facial expressions, etc), and are at odds with each other about almost everything. They clash constantly, and their unlikely writing tandem results in many, many laugh out loud moments.

Many comedies end after forcing its characters into unpredictably absurd situations. But there is an end result to its characters’ interactions: a comedy. You get a comedy, they get a comedy. It’s an interesting thought, one I’m sure I thought about way too much. Narrative structure, the play-like execution, the plot itself… all really intelligent, as if it’s impossible that the laughs were even the point of the movie. Laughs as a side-effect of Mitani’s inquiry into the process of scriptwriting? I’m not sure, I was laughing too hard. Looks like I failed Hoshi and Mitani’s University of Laughs (see what I did thar harharhar).

An enjoyable film with an intelligent script. There aren’t many metafictional comedies, but this one strikes gold.

things to take note of
Steak of the nation
Yakusho Koji’s deadpan-to-comedian transformation
Idiot’s Guide to Writing Comedy

best moment
Raaaatatatatatat police! Halt! HAHAHAHA

why you should watch this
Intelligent comedies are usually even better than intelligent dramas
Dude, maybe I can write comedies too

rating: 9 (yes, really)

Plot: B+
Cast: A
Cinematography: B
Music: B
Entertainment: A

similar movies, maybe:
I’m not sure. Stranger Than Fiction? I don’t think there’s even a single Asian in that movie. Intelligent meta-ish comedies are hard to find, y’know. Man, I hate that word.