Hoyaman’s endearing performances anchor quirky Japanese comedy (Film Review)

Reviews TV/Film

Hoyaman (Sayonara, Hoyaman)
Film review by David Cirone

– Screening as part of Japan Society’s “Family Portrait: Japanese Family in Flux” film series on February 18, 2024

Hoyaman film review

Hoyaman opens with a VHS clip of a costumed hero standing proudly on the beaches of the quite island of Ajishima. Garbed in a ridiculous orange mask and cape, he proudly proclaims the value of the edible sea squirts found in abundance of the island’s shores.

While this intro preps us for a campy comedy, the scenes that follow set the stage for something much more sincere. We’re introduced to young brothers Akira and Shigeru, who barely make living as fisherman and share a single cup of ramen noodles every day as their only meal. Young Shigeru spends his days re-reading his worn collection of manga as his stomach rumbles hungrily.

The answer to their problems seems to arrive when troubled artist Miharu arrives on the island, escaping a scandal back in Tokyo. Moved by the brothers’ comradery, but more excited to have found the one spot on the island with a good phone signal, she offers to buy their home for cash. Akira takes the down payment out of desperation, but realizes that he can’t bear to sell the family home. Dreaming of internet riches, he decides to revive the Hoyaman character created by their long-lost father, who died during the great tsunami of 2011. They’ll use the character to become “YouTube famous” and double their money. A few “how-to” books and a video camera is all they need, right?

Hoyaman film review

Hoyaman film review Kumi Kureshiro

Jaded by city life, Miharu warns the pair that they’re “10 years too late”, but she’s so moved by their glee of becoming “YouTubers” that she uses her final bit of social media influence to push their struggling videos into the spotlight. However, Hoyaman’s fleeting success ends up revealing the scars of the tsunami’s effect on the boys and the island community.

Writer/director Teruaki Shoji elicits endearing performances from his cast, and the standout is Afro from the band MOROHA in his own movie debut. As protective older brother Akira, Afro delivers a mix of fantastic comedic timing and heartbreaking dramatic skill. Actress Kumi Kureshiro’s performance is equally strong, but the characterization of the troubled mangaka is limited by a script that walls off her emotions behind crushed, empty cans of malt beer. Relaxed and subtle performances by Yoneko Matsukane as an older woman with regrets of her own and Kanji Tsuda as the boys’ watchful uncle brighten the screen.

There’s a drastic tonal and visual shift in the third act that unfortunately locks the actors into accelerated melodrama and confessional monologues, as if the film itself read one of the “how-to” books on Akira’s table and realized it need a climax. Shoji takes some big swings in the final 20 minutes, but in a comedy-drama that is so successful in building strong relationships, the intrusion of plot felt heavy-handed. The focus on family is where Hoyaman really shines.

Hoyaman film review Kumi Kureshiro

Presented by Japan Society (New York)
February 15-24, 2024

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