- RatedPG /GenreComedy
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Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Having made his name with popular light-hearted comedies such as Waterboys and Swing Girls, Japanese director Shinobu Yaguchi's latest seems at first to be more of the same.
Looking at the trailer, one might have worried that this would be a forgettable, frothy, slapstick comedy, a film that might not have the same effortless feel-good factor of the aforementioned projects.
Would viewers be asked to sit back and bask in the shiny plastic smiles of cute-as-a-button flight attendants, accompanied by smarmy grins from macho, show-off pilots? Would high-flying shenanigans lead to comic high jinks and perhaps a contrived romance?
Not quite. While Yaguchi is fond of moulding underdog characters into admirable heroes, after putting them through a series of somewhat arduous and comedy-fertile trials, Happy Flight is an ensemble piece that takes a somewhat different flight path than his past projects.
In fact, this film bears more similarities to the reality television series Airportand Airline, which chart the daily goings-on at airports in the United Kingdom and America, than other comedies. A key underlying theme is that while there are rules to be followed and procedures that can be learned, being able to adapt and improvise are highly valued qualities in the airline industry.
Cutting through the glamour of the industry, Happy Flight champions multiple heroes and heroines, the good men and women of the Japanese carrier All Nippon Airways, or ANA, and the ground staff at Tokyo's Haneda Airport, for their professionalism.
They include pilots, flight attendants, air traffic controllers, operations executives, check-in staff, engineers and even the airport 'bird man', whose job is to fire shots in the air to frighten away flocks of birds that endanger planes landing or departing.
What's more, there are eccentric jet enthusiasts (like bird-watchers, except they watch planes) who station themselves on nearby grounds to take photographs, as well as airline geeks who camp in the airport to quiz airline staff on conspiracy theories and flight gossip.
Understated day-to-day valour is the name of the game here for Yaguchi, as all the staff featured display a dedication to the greater good -- the safety and well-being of passengers -- despite their little complaints and confrontations. While this depiction appears romanticised (ANA should be most pleased with the publicity mileage it gets), the characters are well-drawn and endearing enough to sustain the audiences' interest.
The two principal characters that audiences may focus most on are easy-going trainee pilot Suzuki (Seiichi Tanabe) and bright-eyed rookie flight attendant Saito (Haruka Ayase), both of whom are wet behind the ears and particularly nervous because a) they each have stern supervisors, and b) they each initially don't take their jobs too seriously.
As fate would have it, their maiden flight is one full of holidaymakers going to Honolulu, with several nervous fliers and numerous demanding customers among them, including one unexpectedly churlish man who brings a flight attendant to tears with his furious rant.
Predictably, this would be an eventful flight that does not offer smooth passage to all involved. A mysterious mechanical fault requires the pilots to head back to Tokyo mid-flight, and their return is fraught with danger when a typhoon closes in.
A deft mix of light comedy, behind-the-scenes expose and high-altitude drama makes Happy Flight one of the more pleasant surprises on the current movie slate. Yaguchi fills his canvas with a large cast of characters, but gives them all a role to play in the day's unfolding drama.
While there is an idealisation of and deference to the characters and their much-vaunted professions, this filmis rooted in enough realism and filled with sufficient heart and humanism to make it an engaging and unexpectedly compelling comedy-drama.
One can conclude that Yaguchi has aimed higher this time to explore ideas beyond the bounds of his past hits and engender good feelings from more varied sources. He's reached for the skies and, through skill and fortitude, not suffered an Icarus-like fall.
About Yong Shu Chiang
Yong Shu Chiang, otherwise known as SC, is a freelance editor and writer. He reviewed movies for Juice magazine when he was in college, and was the resident film reviewer for Today Newspaper from 2003 to 2005. He has also reviewed movies for Prime Time Morning on Channel NewsAsia.
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