Early in the film Muramoto states that there are no limits in stand up comedy. It exists to skewer everything, unfortunately Japanese society has a lot of unwritten rules listing the things you can’t say. Clearly the Japanese have very thin skins, or at least the officials do, since they are the ones who seemingly can’t take a joke. It’s also a stance held by his father who is not happy with his son rocking the boat.
Working on several levels, I AM A COMEDIAN has a great deal to say. It maybe the best observational documentary of a comedian that I’ve ever seen. It’s a warts and all portrait of what it requires to be on the road telling jokes. Even if there wasn’t the issues of free speech the film would be compelling viewing for any one who wants to know what it is like to tell jokes for a living.
The film is a pointed look at a society where free speech allowed by statute but where unwritten rules curtail it. It’s a problem that isn’t just in Japan, but everywhere, including here in the US where the politeness police and the threat of being canceled has made it harder and harder to make jokes about anything and are threatening to rewrite what humor is. While here in the US people are upset about people making fun of groups, in Japan it’s the government and public officials not wanting to be ridiculed for the stupid things they are doing, which kind of makes you wonder if they really are that free at all.
I was moved by this film. Watching it I found I had to stop taking notes and just watch the film the first time through because I was not watching the film but writing out a running commentary on the film. I was engaging with the film in a way that I rarely do.
An absolute must see, I AM A COMEDIAN is one of the Japan Cuts films you need to experience for yourself.