Mothballs: Tachigui: Tokyo Grift

This Week: Tachigui: The Amazing Lives of the Fast Food Grifters (Tachiguishi-Retsuden)

Mamoru Oshii making a feature film length Angela Anaconda movie. Or close enough, at least.

Tachigui: The Amazing Lives of the Fast Food Grifters (Tachiguishi-Retsuden)

If one examines Oshii’s filmography as a whole, there is a thread running through much of it regarding the place of Japan in a changing modern landscape. Various parts of the Mobile Police Patlabor franchise deal with elements like the Japanese constitution and the legal extension of force, there are his alternative history Kerberos Saga works, and so on. Tachigui is an exploration of fast food, culture in the post war decades, and the changing Japanese people.

While there is a whole novel Oshii wrote which this movie is an adaptation of, I have to imagine this is the closest he may ever be to a Call Up All My Friends And Make A Movie kind of production. The cast is a unique swath of the anime industry. Toshio Suzuki has been the primary Producer at Studio Ghibli, and was even its President until just a few weeks ago (now he is “just” a managing director), in addition to producing Oshii’s own Angel’s Egg and Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence projects. Kenji Kawai is on display, who has made many soundtracks for Oshii over the years. Shoji Kawamori from Macross and numerous mechanical design credits, and many other participants. That is the cast, mind, and I do not mean just in the voice acting.

Tachigui The Amazing Lives of The Fast Food Grifters Tachiguishi-Retsuden Drunk Businessman Neon Light Tie On Head

This film uses Oshii’s “superlivemation” technique.

The process involves a combination of photography, digital imaging, and the like to create a kind of paper doll puppetry animation. He has used it in places like the explosions in Avalon if you have seen his live action work. But, many folks would tend to be most immediately familiar with the Canadian television series Angela Anaconda, which took up residence in many cartoon programming blocs around the world in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. While using different technology, it had a similar goal of taking photographs and attempting make an arts and crafts visual aesthetic out of live action models. As a side note, Angela’s Department of Redundancy Department style verbal repetition tics have by all odds done their share of subconscious damage to derail my writing in various ways over the years.

As it goes then, Tachigui is a kind of false documentary film. Our live action but animated actors are representing different varieties of fast food, social changes in the post war years, and the potential swindling or loss therein (hence the “Grifters”). While there is a fair amount of relevant historical data, such as Coca-Cola arriving in Japan, but many falsities are also provided alongside them.

Tachigui The Amazing Lives of The Fast Food Grifters Tachiguishi-Retsuden Hamburger Flipping Flying Grill Cook Huge Order

By design there are many liberties taken as well in presentation and comedic timing. None of the Fast Food Grifters or their capers were genuine real people or events, after all. They are more conceptual ideas that ebbed and flowed over time through the national consciousness and eating habits. As a result, there is what the film is doing and saying on its surface levels, and there are also the extra layers where one tries to decode the further facets of what Oshii is attempting to get across.

And to be honest, there is some higher level material in there I know I just do not have the minute culinary history background to be able to suss out in each of its different onion like social commentary layers. It would make for a hell of an article from a far more knowledgeable historian in that field. But, as this is a comedy in addition to a cultural meditation piece, I feel there are ample considerations to guide someone from start to finish in a way where they will feel comfortable. It is a surprisingly approachable film, given the Director and the subject matter.

Tachigui The Amazing Lives of The Fast Food Grifters Tachiguishi-Retsuden Frankfurter Tatsu Ferris Wheel Sad Smoking Interview

The Grifters themselves, as the individual stars in different sections of the film as it transitions across the years, I feel had a lot of ingenuity put into how they were presented. Take Frankfurter Tatsu, who is pictured above. Now, if you think about it, a hot dog does not amount to a whole lot on its own and when left to its own devices. It wants cushioning from the bun, it desires various toppings, often needs to be hand held, and so on. They are seeking listless escapism above all else, perhaps to a great personal fault. At least within the confines of how Oshii chooses to use the character. They are a representation of the post-war generations coming of age in late 70’s and early 80’s Japan before the economic bubble boom and the concerns which had swirled about them from their elders.

It has a kind of complex charm throughout which does help to move all this along. Doves released during the Olympic opening ceremony only to have one of them careening into the flames and burn. A huge order at a restaurant being akin to going to war or a scene from a major historical housing market problem. Foxy croquette soba represented via an enchanting woman at a stand and eat before the National Diet Building, her featured era containing the numerous post-war development initiatives and new international agencies like the United Nations all bundled together, within which has determined a lot of Japan’s image to the outside world into the present. There is this mix of idealization and questioning. This clash where aspects of these cultural shifts and perspectives may be both wrong and right in different capacities. Which I think is a healthy route for it to take, and again akin to the paths explored by Oshii in places like Patlabor 2.

The biggest structural problem I have with it comes down to how long Tachigui is. The film clocks in at just under an hour and forty-five minutes. While that is not too out of line for a lot of more narrative driven movies, it does feel quite stretched here by the end. It is like those times hanging out with friends, and everyone already had a blast for much of the night. But everyone sort of keeps milling about in different capacities killing time because they do not want the reality of the next day of work or school to sink in yet. Folks know they should go, but nobody wants the evening to end yet or be the first to leave. Which I think does speak to how much enjoyment these different industry veterans from Oshii’s phone list must have had with each other putting this all together, though it does throw the pacing off down to a crawl by the finish.

For some nifty reading, I found Production I.G. has a three part interview with Mamoru Oshii relating to this film (part one, part two, and part three). There is some great stuff in there, and with the unique animation process to tackle this subject I find it particularly noteworthy to point out. Given his responses, he really did have a lot of fun making this movie.


Mothballs is a weekly write-up of already completed anime I have either removed from my backlog or have recently revisited. A crash space for my immediate thoughts and personal processing, these are not intended as full reviews.

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