Starring: Haruka Ayase, Shinichi Tsutsumi, Gaku Hamada
Director: Masayuki Suzuki
Running Time: 120 mins
Honnōji Hotel is a Japanese film about a woman who, after deciding to stay at a quaint hotel in Kyoto’s historic quarter, finds herself in the middle of 16th Century Japan, and plays a part in one of the country’s most important historical events.
Even with a premise that involves time travel, there are things about Honnōji Hotel that require even more of a leap. That said, it’s a pretty fun watch, and although it does drag on a little at two full hours long, the film’s humour and light-hearted atmosphere, coupled with some lovely costume and production design, make it a harmless and enjoyable watch from start to finish.
Let’s start with the best thing about this film: its humour. It may not be a witty and particularly original comedy, but the fact that it goes about its preposterous premise with glee and humour makes it so much more enjoyable than it could have been. Ranging from some great slapstick to countless other small details, there’s a lot to smile about in the film, something that I’ll always welcome with open arms.
The performances also go a long way to making the film an entertaining watch. In the central role, Haruka Ayase is hugely likable, and although she comes across as a little ditsy in the early stages, it’s very easy to warm to her character thanks to an energetic and fun performance. Alongside her are the likes of Shinichi Tsutsumi and Gaku Hamada playing some of the historical figures, with just the same amount of spirit and glee.
But the one performance that’s most likely to go under the radar comes from Morio Kazama. He plays the concierge/owner of the Honnōji Hotel, and features in numerous hilarious exchanges with Ayase’s character as she tries to explain to him that she was transported back to the 16th Century. Kazama plays a hugely entertaining side character, bringing the film’s best laughs every time he’s on screen.
Aside from being silly and enjoyable, Honnōji Hotel is actually a visually brilliant film. The production and costume design of both modern and past Kyoto are delightful to look at, whilst director Masayuki Suzuki brings some intriguing techniques to the screen. Sometimes it comes off a bit forced and clunky, but on occasions, he pulls off some excellent long takes that bring an extra dynamic to the film, which was great to see.
Now we come to the story, and where Honnōji Hotel falls down most. Like I said, it’s a silly and light-hearted film, and that means you can watch the preposterous events unfold while smirking as much as you like. However, when it comes to effective storytelling, I can’t say that this film is a true masterpiece.
We’ve seen the time travel premise to the past done a million times, so it’s not hard to suspend your disbelief that far. However, there are some things about Honnōji Hotel that feel even more ridiculous and unbelievable than the majority of films from the genre. Whether it’s the characters from the past seeming perfectly okay with the concept of time travel, or the people in the modern era not being able to see the blindingly obvious, there are a lot of strange things about this film that make it a less interesting watch than it could have been.
On the whole, however, Honnōji Hotel is an enjoyable watch. If you suspend your disbelief enough, and then go one step further, the underwhelming story isn’t so much of a problem, thanks to the film’s excellent sense of humour, great performances, wonderful visuals and strong direction, which is why I’m giving it a 7.1.