Cafe Isobe 純喫茶磯辺 (Jun kissa Isobe) [2008] • Japan

This is a funny film built on fine performances and skilled direction. Yujiro Isobe (Hiroyuki Miyasako) acts like a guy who has accidentally dropped his cards face-up on the poker table and thinks he can still bluff. Sometimes he's a little pitiful and some times a little creepy but he never goes over the edge—he just hints at it. He lives with his teenage daughter Sakiko (Riisa Naka). Mature beyond her years, Sakiko puts up with him but doesn't like him very much ... well, until the end when everything gets happy ... but she doesn't hate him. She treats him with the amount of respect he deserves, which is a cautious little. Sakiko's been abandoned by her mother but doesn't hate her either. Her mother didn't fight for her custody because, as she tells Sakiko, "It seemed like your father cared for you more than I did." Ouch!

Yujiro inherits some money and quits his job. After a bit of time doing nothing he decides to open a cafe. When he informs Sakiko of his plans she asks him if he has any service experience; or a business plan; or if he knows anything about food. He says he will work hard at it. Sakiko tells him, rightfully, that he doesn't even know what he's supposed to work hard at. His response is, "You're annoying. So annoying." He's going to bluff.

Yujiro opens the cafe and Sakiko agrees to help out part-time but she's so appalled by the decor her father has chosen she refuses to tell any of her friends where it is for fear they will come visit and laugh. Life at the cafe, and the father daughter relationship, gets complicated when an attractive young woman, Motoko (Kumiko Aso) begins working there. She wears a short-skirted uniform to attract customers, and Yujiro becomes attracted to her as well. Motoko is a strange character, with a lot of baggage. Sakiko is immediately suspicious and doesn't want her father to have anything to do with Motoko, professionally or personally. Yujiro begins dating Motoko and an emotional comedy of errors ensues.

Kumiko Aso is fabulous here. The three main characters are all good, really good actually, but Aso is a favorite actress of mine and she's wonderful in most everything she does, so I'm singling her out. She makes the film funny in a "funny-strange" way more than a "funny-haha" way, but there are many moments that will likely make you laugh out loud. A lot of the laughs are the result of the director's skill in editing for comic timing. This is a well put together film, and it has a heart, too. It's a comedy, and while it gets goofy from time to time, it brings itself together as a mildly touching, chuckle filled, human drama.

Director: Keisuke Yoshida
Starring: Hiroyuki Miyasako, Riisa Naka, Kumiko Aso

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