Wasabi – Reno and Ryoko

Today was one of those Saturday afternoons with an open couple of hours to kill. I was in the mood for a light movie. Having seen Black Swan back in December, then having watched Natalie Portman walk off with the Oscar for Best Performance by a Female – she was in my thoughts. So I consulted her filmography, running down the list until I had come to The Professional. Portman had appeared in that film about hired assassins back in 1994. She was only a kid in 1994, and her costars were Jean Reno and Gary Oldman.

After Black Swan, I wasn’t about to watch Portman as a kid.

So I headed back to the lists. I had just recently watched and reviewed Rain Fall, a contemporary thriller set in Japan, and Oldman had been in that one too. So after a little bit more research I found Wasabi. This was a French film shot mostly in Japan and it played in the theaters in 2001. In this one, Jean Reno played a Parisian detective who had all of Dirty Harry’s style and none of Inspector Clouseau’s pratfalls.

But despite that pedigree, this was mostly – a comedy. Sure, such genre tags as Action, Drama, Crime, and Thriller were attached to Wasabi according to the IMDB. But trust me – this one was played for laughs.

Reno plays Hubert Fiorentini, a cop who would punch your lights out first just to get your attention, then, he’d ask you his questions. But as expected, his rough house techniques frequently got him in trouble with the suits – otherwise known as his bosses. After his latest dust up in a disco, he’s been commanded to visit his victim, the chief of police’s son, in the hospital, apologize, then go somewhere  – as in anywhere – on vacation.

Back in the day, say 19 or 20 years ago (there’s a running joke in the film about that 19 vs 20), he was working as part of a French Intelligence team in Tokyo. He met a local Japanese girl, Miko Kobayashi. One thing led to another, they married, and shortly after that, Miko vanished – never to be seen again.

Flash forward to the present. Hubert gets a phone call just as his vacation/suspension begins from a Tokyo lawyer (who speaks perfect French). It turns out that Miko has just died. She’s left a will. Hubert has been named as the sole legatee and executor. Hubert has to drop everything and be in Tokyo at once, as the cremation will occur as soon as possible.

Off he goes – and after less than five minutes in Japan, he punches out the Japanese Passport Control officer. But that was just to establish, once more, that he throws a mean right hand.

Next, in the lawyers office, Hubert receives a box of items, including the access to a bank account, and something else that was too big to fit in the box – his 19 year old daughter that he never knew he had, played by a super cute Ryoko Hirosue. She’s got red hair, and she dresses in clothes so colorful that they’re scary. What’s more – she speaks blue streak French. Make that – she speaks Francais faster than a speeding shinkansen bullet train.

Hubert has to baby sit her just for the next two days until she becomes 20 years of age – and legal in Japan. Want another surprise? Miko left a pile of money. A truckload of money. No, make that a mountain of money.

The daughter can’t get at the money until she’s legal. Only how Miko was able to salt away that kind of money is a big mystery. Enter the Yakuza. It appears that they think they have a claim on this money and they’ll do a whole lot more than just ringing your door bell and then sprinting off . They’ll do everything up to and including maiming or killing to get it.

Off we go – shopping, chases, fights, shootouts, even a bowl of wasabi which Hubert samples the way you and I might dip our finger into a bowl of cake frosting.

Written by Luc Besson, and directed by Gerard Krawczyk, this is a comedy of a dad (papa) and a daughter who are also being hunted by the Yakuza. People fly across the room when punched, Yakuza goons are tossed aside like brushing crumbs off your lap, and the bullets really do fly. But it is all so tongue in cheek. You can’t mistake the action as being on the same planet as realistic.

But it is good fun. Admittedly this is very light fare. Speaking of light fare, as the film started I felt a need for some popcorn. Only I had none. No matter. The film itself was light, airy, tasty, and just as much fun as a bowl of popcorn. Voila!

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