My Secret Cache (1997)
Nicholas Driscoll
April 10, 2007
Note: review may contain spoilers

My fondness for Swing Girls (2004) has hardly been hidden, so to say I was looking forward to watching My Secret Cache by the same director, Shinobu Yaguchi, would be like saying a dog scratches fleas. Shinobu Yaguchi has established himself as a craftsman of lightweight, glee-filled comedies, and while I wasn't particularly impressed with Water Boys (2001), I remained eager to view his earlier work. My Secret Cache, while somewhat different in tone from his later work, clearly displays Yaguchi's genius for non-sequitur comedy, with a somewhat darker edge, and even a couple stabs at social satire.

In one of the longer pre-opening-credit sequences of recent memory, the story of money-grubbing slacker Sakiko (played by Naomi Nishida, popular among kaiju fans for her role in 1999's Godzilla 2000: Millenium) is narrated through her early adulthood. Sakiko is an unusual Japanese woman, to put it mildly. Eschewing the passive, obsequious, and romantic mold of so much cliched Japanese femininity, Sakiko is brazen and socially inept, smacking around boys, demanding cash instead of dates from her hopeful beaus, and pursuing her favorite hobby in life—counting money—by securing a job in a bank. But when she realizes that counting the money at the bank doesn't make any of it her own, she wistfully wishes that a gang of bandits would rob the place and kidnap her so that her life might be injected with a bit of much-needed drama. When her bizarre wish unexpectedly comes true and she is stuffed into the getaway car's trunk along with the huge case of money, she is taken for a wild ride that just begins with the escape vehicle plummeting off a cliff and exploding. Somehow she survives and is rescued, while the money, thought by the authorities to have burned up in the explosion, is left sunk in a subterranean pond. Then comes the title card, and thus begins Sakiko's quest to recover the money, even if it means abandoning all her own personal funds and facing off against society's social mores and expectations in the process.

The story, written by Yaguchi and sometime-collaborator Takuji Suzuki, is a fast-moving oddball farce, brimming with anarchic energy. Characters are quirky and engaging, and the jokes, most of the time, hit the funny bone straight on, sometimes skewering Japanese social prejudices along the way; Sakiko succeeds by defying what is expected of her—mastering mountain climbing, going to a lousy junior college despite having graduated from one already—rather than finding a man and keeping house. Not that the socio-political overtones ever weigh too heavily; much the opposite, My Secret Cache is a gleeful, nutty comedy, with message coming secondarily to fun. That being said, the story doesn't always hold perfectly together. Some scene shifts and events are confusing—the most vivid example being when Sakiko goes hiking in one scene and then in the next is suddenly hanging from a rotten stump off a cliff in the next—and while most everything is tied up by the end, parts of the denouement feel forced. Nevertheless, for the most part the story succeeds, and much of that success can be attributed to Naomi Nishida's portrayal of Sakiko.

Despite being incredibly selfish, insensitive, and something of a terror to her friends and family, the character of Sakiko is incredibly endearing, and reminded me of the similarly alternative misfit girl Momoko from 2004's Kamikaze Girls. Naomi Nishida holds considerable power on screen as she plays up Sakiko's multitude of quirks without ever moving too far into self-parody, and she makes good use of her wide range of hilarious facial expressions. She disappears so far into the character that I was shocked to discover after watching the movie that Nishida had been a popular model before turning to acting—in My Secret Cache, she looks like anything but.

Nishida however cannot carry this film alone, and thankfully she is joined by a number of fine (and funny) supporting actors. Some of the stand-outs include Taketoshi Naito of The Return of Godzilla fame, who plays a rock-tasting senile college professor, and I enjoyed Noriko Tanaka as Sakiko's acidic sister Mika, although this was apparently her only movie role. On the other hand, Go Riju (also seen in the comedy classic The Funeral and the offbeat gore-romance, Vital), who plays a manchild assistant professor who falls for Sakiko, is more wooden and doesn't quite keep up the energy. Sharp-eyed kaiju-philes, however, will note the Godzilla statue and big Mothra larva pillow featured in a brief sequence showcasing his hopelessly nerdy room.

Music, by Kuniaki Yagura, is, like everything else in this movie, rather wacky. Almost all the music throughout the film is aggressively Celtic, even employing bagpipes (which I will admit I love) and what sound like other traditional Scottish and Irish instruments. When I watched the film with some friends, there was some comments on the incongruity—"Is this movie supposed to take place in Ireland?"—but the cuts are lively and they certainly add to the overall feeling of screwball adventure.

Yaguchi's films have a distinct and crowd-pleasing feel which My Secret Cache captures well. While not as refined as his later works that I've seen, My Secret Cache also bucks formula more, and succeeded in making me wish to see more of star Nishida's work. Obviously Yaguchi himself is fond of the work; in Swing Girls there is an obvious visual reference to this film in a certain bike-riding sequence, and Nishida even comes back for a cameo appearance. While not perfect, this is a fine representation of its genre. Put my money on Sakiko.