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Turtles Are Surprisingly Fast Swimmers

Turtles Are Surprisingly Fast Swimmers

By Arpad Lukacs • March 3rd, 2012
Static Mass Rating: 4/5
TURTLES ARE SURPRISINGLY FAST SWIMMERS (DVD)
Third Window Films

Originak release: February 27th, 2012
Certificate (UK): 12
Running time: 90 minutes

Country of origin: Japan
Original language: Japanese with English subtitles

Writer and director: Satoshi Miki

Cast: Juri Ueno, Yu Aoi, Ryo Iwamatsu, Eri Fuse

Only a very lucky few of us don’t know what it’s like to be unwanted. Liking somebody who doesn’t return the feelings can turn liking into craving and that into depression if we are not careful.

Every time is the first time. Different people have different ways to move on, going out and getting drunk is perhaps one way, if you have a passion or hobby you can spend more time with that – treating yourself with nice things is what seems to be the universal process of healing.

There might be, however, new ideas out there: why not try something you’ve never done before?

Our unwanted heroine is a young housewife Suzume Katagura (Juri Ueno) in writer/director Satoshi Miki’s comedy Turtles are Surprisingly Fast Swimmers. Her husband was sent overseas on business and although he calls her every once in a while he is more interested in the well-being of their pet turtle than his wife. But Suzume does not give up; she tries to fill the void in her life by making simple things more interesting like trying to climb up steep steps in 30 seconds. With a touch of comedy in every scene, her self-analysis does not produce encouraging results, no one seems to notice Suzume and even her best friend (Yu Aoi) can only remind her that she is too ordinary.

Turtles Are Surprisingly Fast Swimmers

Probably out of desperation as well as curiosity, she replies to an extremely tiny flyer she found by accident that boldly says: Spies Wanted! Suzume soon finds herself in the company of strange couple Shizuo (Ryo Iwamatsu) and Etsuko (Eri Fuse), two sleeper agents working for an unnamed country. They are really impressed by how ordinary Suzume is – vital quality in a spy – and hire her immediately. Not without laughter, we soon find out that when being ordinary is a job description, Suzume actually feels it difficult to hold on to the curse she had been trying to get rid of. Before long, she is known on television as the “mysterious woman with a turtle”.

Turtles are Surprisingly Fast Swimmers is a comedy that didn’t even know that there would later be a whole new level of accuracy to its plot. Five years after the film was made, in 2010 life decided to imitate art when Russian sleeper agent Anna Chapman along with nine others was caught in the United States. It turns out that very much like the sleeper agents in the film, Anna Chapman wasn’t up to very much at all; the exciting life of a spy looks a lot more ordinary when we look closer. This is the comic reality Satoshi Miki’s film portrays so brilliantly.

Turtles Are Surprisingly Fast Swimmers

I still remember when US Vice President Joe Biden went on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno to crack a few jokes on the following prisoner swap with Russia. He said that the swap was a good one because the US spies were much better than the Russian ones although he implied that he didn’t want to give Chapman back because she was hot. What we would expect to be a serious matter of national security seemed like suitable subject for humour on late night television. Not one talk show or comedy show could resist the temptation to have their take on Anna Chapman. Sleeper agents are funny.

Anna Chapman’s story helped me to see Turtles from a whole new perspective. I was laughing so hard when the bumbling spies were eventually discovered by government agents and could not handle the situation as well as they thought they would. Ryo Iwamatsu and Eri Fuse are hilarious as the “spy masters” taking their non-existent job very seriously and Juri Ueno is lovely and charming as she plays Suzume who is probably just looking for herself more than anything.

I could mention a few jokes that felt somewhat misconceived, but Turtles are Surprisingly Fast Swimmers is nevertheless a brilliant comedy that doesn’t want to be taken too seriously. It put a big smile on my face that lasted long, especially when I thought of Suzume practicing the cunning spy laughter ‘hue he he he’.

Arpad Lukacs

Arpad Lukacs

Arpad is a Film Studies graduate and passionate photographer (he picked up the camera and started taking stills just as he began his studies of moving pictures). He admires directors that can tell a story first of all in images. More or less inevitably, Brian De Palma has become Aprad’s favourite filmmaker.

Then there’s Arpad’s interest in anime. He was just a boy when he saw Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind on an old VHS and was hypnotised by the story of friendship, devotion and sacrifice. He still marvels at the uncompromising and courageous storytelling in Japanese anime, and wonders about the western audience with its ever growing appetite for “Japanemation”.

Have a look at Arpad's photography site, and you can follow him on Twitter @arpadlukacs.

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