DVD Review: Turtles Are Surprisingly Fast Swimmers (2005) – A Film By Miki Satoshi
Original Title: Kame wa igia to hayaku oyogu
A quirky breeze of a film, director Miki Satoshi cements his reputation with a style of film he likes to make: Random skits, oddball characters and comedy mixed in with his take on the ordinary which draws heavily on Japanese kitsch.
Suzume Katagura (Juri Ueno) is a bored young housewife left home alone by her husband who is abroad on business. He rings once a day only to ask Suzume if she has fed his turtle. Her best friend is Kiyaku Ogitani (Yu Aoi), a free spirited young woman who lives in a cave. She often turns up late, is in a world of her own, leaves a mess in her wake without realising it and dreams of moving to Paris. Despite this, Susume is envious of her because of her joie de vivre and vivaciousness and the fact that she has always done better than her ever since they were small.
To overcome her boredom and ignite her self-worth, Suzume looks outside herself for inspiration. Feeling invisible in a sleepy seaside town where there is hardly anything going on, she gets her hair done, bumps into weird strangers, and sees the extraordinary in the ordinary. Then, on seeing a poster the size of a postage stamp advertising for spies, she becomes intrigued. Dialling the number she is instructed to rendezvous at a rundown house piled with books three days later. There she is met by an odd married couple, Shizuo (Ryô Iwamatsu) and Etsuko Kugitani (Eri Fuse). Shizuo is out of work and socially inept, and Etsuko is a shopping mall announcer – hardly a pair you would associate as being spies. Seeing how plain and unassuming Suzume looks, they ask her if she would like to become a spy. Always looking to others to make decisions for her she agrees. In order not to draw attention to herself as a spy, Suzume has to pretend to play the role of an ordinary, dull woman. In other words, she has to pretend to be the person she actually is, and, ironically, this pretence at being her genuine self gives her a new lease of life.
Satoshi invites us to look through his lens at the absurdities and humour in life because it can be easily missed in our own day-to-day existence. He gives us the keys to the kingdom of the peculiar and it is up to us whether or not to take them and explore the corridors of the unpredictable. Satoshi plays by his own rules and keeps us guessing as to what it’s all about. Because it has a high rewatchability factor, interpreting Turtles could take on many forms. The more times it is viewed, the more meaning can be attached to it and the more it will start to make sense. For example, if we were to focus solely on the character of Suzume we can see how she emboldens herself from a seemingly loveless marriage by the strange people she meets and things she does. Another mute point is that her life is being gently run by other people and she doesn’t even know it. We could interpret many scenes as a take on theatre improvisation or a set of Monty Python-type skits. Or perhaps we could attach meaning to the dialogue: “Ordinary life holds a world of secrets”, “Everyone’s luck is limited”, “Luck can be spent in small bits”.
Turtles Are Surprisingly Fast Swimmers has an inoffensive quality and feel to it. It’s a feel-good movie and is particularly worthwhile viewing for those who spend too much time with their headphones on or unhealthy attached to their mobile phones oblivious to what’s going on around them. In a quant way, it is very Zen-like reflecting the notion that most of us go about our daily lives half asleep not realising that there’s wonder in every moment; if we were only to look. Satoshi helps us to see the colourful in the mundane.
Review written by Juan Carty
Label: Third Window Films
Year of production: 2005
Running time: 90 mins
Writer/Director: Miki Satoshi
Cast: Juri Ueno, Yu Aoi, Ryo Iwamatsu, Eri Fuse