Suite Dreams (2006)
Nicholas Driscoll
June 24, 2007
Note: review may contain spoilers

Suite Dreams, better known over here in Japan as The Uchoten Hotel, instilled some considerable level of anticipation in me when I saw it on the shelf at the rental store. A number of my beloved students had seen it in theaters, and, as they are, together, one of the most effective instigators of my cinematic curiosity, I snapped it up readily—even before it was in the cheap and old section. This was also the first Koki Mitani film that I sat through to the end, and at first, as the absurd antics began to unravel, I found myself becoming a content and happy viewer, completely unsuspecting of the insulting crap coming my way at the end of my stay…

Let's dig into the story—there's a lot to cover. Shindo (Koji Yakusho, 1996's Shall We Dance, Memoirs of a Geisha) is a very busy hotel accommodation manager, even busier now because of the impending New Years celebration that night. There are scads and scads of problems screaming for attention, and Shindo graciously and competently attends to them, humbly submitting to his moronic superiors and always going the extra mile or two to make his guests happy. However, when his ex-wife (Mieko Harada) shows up, Shindo can't bring himself to tell her the truth of what's become of him since their divorce—that he abandoned his dreams and is now working at the hotel. Shindo had aspired to greatness in stage directing in his past life, and thus now stages an increasingly difficult (and stupid) charade as an award-winning star of his former field of work to earn his former wife's admiration. Meanwhile, Kenji the bell boy (Shingo Kattori, the ever-grinning member of super-phenomenon pop band SMAP) has chosen this night to quit his own great dream—to make it as a singer. Thus he is leaving his job as a bell boy at the hotel to move back to his hometown, a move which inspires much melancholy in his peers. However, the hotel is so busy that night that when a mega-popular enka singer comes to stay, Shindo asks Kenji for help in seeing to the spoiled crooner—and this might just be Kenji's in for a music career. Meanwhile again, when two cleaning maids go to straighten up the room of a horribly messy, thoughtless woman while she's out, one of the maids, the rebellious Hana (Takako Matsu), decides to try on some of the fancy clothes and jewelry laid strewn about. While decked out in said expensive threads, she is promptly mistaken for the guest of the room. Seems the messy lady has also been making a mess of a rich man's marriage, and his son has come to pay her to break it off. Meanwhile again, a corrupt and fantastically selfish politician (Koichi Sato, who also starred in the abysmal navy thriller Aegis) is hiding from the press, unsure of his next step and unaware that the woman with whom he created a scandal and an illegitimate child is working as a cleaning lady at that same hotel. Meanwhile yet again… well, I could go on and on. Suffice it to say that there is also a romance going on in which a man is trying to earn forgiveness for wearing his lover's underwear, there's a ventriloquist's duck named Dabudabu on the loose, the owner of the hotel is running around in face-paint and scaring people, a call-girl breaks in repeatedly and torments one of her former clients with pictures of their dirty deeds together, etc, etc, etc. Suite Dreams is a great collision of zany, fast-changing plotlines that intertwine and accelerate in manic energy until the astoundingly awful pay-off. But we'll get to that later.

I can't really fault most of the performances—not much. The characters aren't especially deep, but they are fun and well-played. Koji Yakusho as the straight-laced Shindo is deeply likable—you see that smiling face and you want him to win, and his crumbling façade that he puts up for his wife is embarrassingly funny… although occasionally it becomes simply embarrassing. I always enjoy Shingo Kattori, and although his turn as bell-boy Kenji is quite subdued in comparison to the parts I have seen him play before, he has an earnestness that is compelling. Ryoko Shinohara as the prostitute is very delightful—her energy and playfulness is, I think, quite effective and highly entertaining, although I could see some people annoyed by her. One of my favorite parts was also one of the smallest—the diminutive detective Kuroda, as performed by Masanori Ishii. His character is a parody of old film noir detectives, and he even wears a fedora and matching old-fashioned coat. Every scene he was in was made better, whether he was trying to catch Dabudabu or chasing a man with a big pipe. I think the only grating character was Sakura Cherry, a jazz-singer hopeful played by Japanese celebrity You… yes, she calls herself You. (Sounds like the beginning of an Abbot and Costello skit.) Her character, in my opinion anyway, is a highly obnoxious, nearly-brainless tool of the plot whose actions are bizarre—that is to say, they yank the plot along without really building her character beyond anything but annoying.

I wish I could say that faults cannot be found in the plot, but such is for not. Inspired by an old film called Grand Hotel, Suite Dreams wraps countless curving plotlines together and, at least at first, creates a delightful, absorbing diversion. As tensions build and the plotlines tangle and pull nearly hard enough to snap, I found myself grinning along at the manifold misfortunes of the characters involved—that is, until the plot did snap and I found myself to be the unfortunate one. When I first saw this film, the events of the climax left me outraged, berating my faithful television as the asinine events unfolded. The movie sets up a great cast of characters—and then sacrifices them at the altar of the film's message, shredding what we understood of the characters in service for a fatuous moral.

The message is, essentially, that you should always be true to yourself and do what you want to do, no matter what other people think. (And apparently no matter what it does to those other people.) Near the end of the film, suddenly this "moral" is being spewed forth by nearly all the characters as some of them do hurtful, stupid things in the name of this lifestyle. In this movie's world, it's perfectly all right to be a jerk, disobey your superiors, and put unfair, massive workloads on your employees. Hurting your family? That's okay. Doing the "right thing" doesn't really matter at all, either, if it doesn't line up with who you are. All that matters to this plot is "being yourself" and "doing what you want." It's not funny, and it certainly isn't uplifting. As the movie ends, and Shindo has gone from considerate, kind man to a jerk who proudly trips up his enemies, he steps forward to speak to the screen, inviting the viewer into the mad house that we have just witnessed.

I'm sorry, I think I'd rather stay somewhere else. The delivery of the already insultingly-stupid message is ham-fisted and as subtle as a block of cement to the face. We're supposed to be able to root on the characters, but instead we find them making fantastically stupid decisions just to push forward a message that, if applied, would lead to a world filled with self-centered, unthinking brutes. I despise the ending to this movie.

As for the music, what is presented here is sparse but highly enjoyable. Original music by Yusuke Honma (who also did music for the Fushigi Yuugi anime series) is brass-heavy, old-school big band, sometimes almost sounding like high-class circus music. It's playful and happy and fits the plot very well. Shingo Kattori also sings a memorable little number about Don Quixote while playing an acoustic guitar, and You provides a rousing jazz song at the climax. Altogether, the movie provides a satisfying aural mix to go with the dissatisfying plotting wreck.

It's not that Suite Dreams is a terrible movie. It's well-made with fun characters and a number of genuine laughs. However, the movie goes so very, very wrong in the end. It's kind of like going to a really nice hotel, having a great stay, and then discovering as you go to pay that, as a surcharge, you need to undergo a frontal lobotomy. Watch only with brains turned off.