Nezu no ban

Synopsis: Wakeful Nights a.k.a A Hardest Night!! (Nezu No Ban) is a classy and refined Japanese comedy set in the world of Rakugo (Traditional Japanese Comic Storytelling) – or at least, it would be if it weren’t full of the raunchiest jokes you’ve ever heard or seen! A dying patriarch’s misunderstood final wishes set in motion a night of emotional reminiscence and hilarious performances as the remaining family members celebrate the past in a series of Wakeful Nights.

Nezu no ban 8.0

Death can be a touchy subject. Funerals are even more so. There are so many societal conventions surrounding both and its all imbued with such seriousness and significance. So it goes without saying then, that poking fun at this sombre ritual is not everyone’s cup of tea – mourning, after all, is hardly seen as something to make light of.

But the people behind ‘Wakeful Nights’ did exactly that: they lifted the wake from sober and proper ceremony to frank and unrepentant pleasantries.

Essentially, what the filmmakers did was to make the film a vehicle for convention-crashing storytelling: in this film, a theatre troupe’s members and spouses all attend wakes and take turns at revisiting fond memories of the dearly departed – irrespective of the propriety of the reminiscences and without any thought being given to personal privacy and/or dignity.

Since many of them are performers, the tales or tributes sometimes swell beyond their natural scope – there are dance numbers, crude song contests and much more in store for the viewers. While that may seem a little too farcical for some, it’s actually delightfully funny – if oft crude and, at times, blasphemous. Thankfully, even though it may not necessarily always be in good taste, at least it’s all done in good fun.

One of the best parts of this film’s DVD release (and something I suspect would have been missing from the theatrical exhibition) are the subtitles: they were so detailed that they explained what every single bit of Kanji that showed up on screen meant. This was terrific, because comedies are frequently about detail, and ensuring that we don’t miss anything at all was absolute genius.

Furthermore, the producers of this DVD also ensured that each expression, historical and cultural reference, …etc., was explained in enough detail (via other on-screen texts) for us to understand the meaning of what was being said by the characters. Considering that some of the jokes were plays on words and were about nuance, these optional subtitles were a veritable godsend – and are the perfect example of the way they should be done. Kudos to AnimEigo for what is a truly outstanding job.

Of course, this means that a lot of reading is involved in the watching of this film (which may account for what might very well be a lower than deserved rating – it can be slightly draining), but it’s totally worth it: as we follow the characters through three wakes, not only do we get a real sense of what is being discussed and what is going on, but we learn a lot about Japanese culture and customs along the way.

‘Wakeful Nights’, despite its sombre subject matter, is filled with good times. I believe that it’s a brilliantly funny –and touching- film that deserves multiple viewings, as it provides great insight into and brings forth excellent questions about a ritual that is echoed and respected the world over.

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