So when Sakiko is kidnapped by bank robbers along with 500 million yen in cash and survives a car crash where the robbers die and the loot is lost in an unknown, watery grotto, it is not surprising that the recovery of all the loot for herself becomes Sakiko's all-consuming obsession.
Dismissed by all who think the money burned in the inferno of the crash, Sakiko stops at nothing to find that cash-filled cave. She goes through exam hell to enter a university geology department that knows that area best. She wins any sports contest she enters to secure its cash prize so she can finance her search. Sakiko will even lie, cheat and steal to get her hands on that hidden treasure.
Films in the vein of It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World would reproach her for such greed and avarice, but director Yaguchi Shinobu's slightly skewed gaze is much gentler. Money gives meaning and direction to Sakiko's life--it makes her endearing in her persistence, resourcefulness, and consistency. It even helps her do the impossible, even if it's just for money.
It also becomes the driving force behind the delightful comedy, My Secret Cache, a kind of vectoral progression running through the film similar to that in Yaguchi's other works. The high-school heroine of his debut feature, Down the Drain ("Hadashi no pikunikku," 1992), was also propelled in a straight line, only hers was incessantly downward as one trick of fate after another hurled her further and further into utter degradation.
But whereas she became victim of the downward velocity of that relentless black comedy, Cache's Sakiko takes that vectoricity and makes it her own. And despite falling down more times than one can count, her progression is ultimately upward, bringing good fortune to herself and to others in her wake. My Secret Cache is a much lighter film than Down the Drain. It is rhythmically woven with a pleasant artificiality epitomized by the intentionally campy special effects. Every shot seems posed and many of Yaguchi's hilarious gags stand alone as independent theatrical sketches.
The film skims along the surface like a hydrofoil, often propelled by transitionary gag lines and images that quickly hurl us from one scene to the next. Never deeply explored, Sakiko is as endearingly one-dimensional as the media images that she always seems to look at, appear in, or even makes, like the little "movie" she produces as she investigates her own kidnapping.
Yaguchi's film is in many ways a pastiche of other movies and TV cliches, wryly playing with images while never pretending to take them or itself too seriously. It treats those cliches and conventions in gentle but slightly warped fashion, always working, as with the casting, against type (this is a film, after all, in which perverse devotion to money is a positive trait). Fashion model Nishida ends up looking more like Hisamoto Masami than Esumi Makiko and the usually serious film director Riju Go is transformed into the womanizing but affable geologist Edogawa.
It is this crooked candy cane quality which may make some overlook My Secret Cache. Especially to many non-Japanese, Japanese cinema is either epically serious or personally tragic, evincing comedy only to ease the oppressive load. But from Enoken to the Crazy Cats, from Morishige Hisaya to Frankie Sakai, this country has a brilliant film comedy tradition both long and deep.
While most of his young contemporaries are filming dark, existential tomes, Yaguchi is one of the few carrying on this comedy heritage. It is heartening that Toho, in cooperation with Pia, has decided to support his talent through the Young Entertainment Square series (YES), which finances productions by young filmmakers like Hashiguchi Ryosuke (Like Grains of Sand).
Given Sakiko's determination to locate her treasure, it's now up to audiences to find the Yaguchi's own secret cache of comedy.
Reviewed by Aaron Gerowonogerow@gorilla.or.jp
Originally appeared in The Daily Yomiuri, 20 February 1997, p. 9.
Copyright 1997: The Daily Yomiuri and Aaron Gerow