Everyone knows that person; the one who goes on vacation and returns with an affect. It might be a foreign accent or a way of dressing, possibly even eating patterns or mannerisms. The trait is off-putting to most of us. It can however, be a source of amusement as in the film JAPAN. The film is the brainchild of Canadian comedy group Tony Ho. One of JAPAN’s stars is the affable and amusing Adam Niebergall. Adam plays Marty, a character that all of us know. Niebergall’s performance, along with that of Roger Bainbridge [Nolan] and Miguel Rivas [Pat Dunkling], remind us of the interplay amongst a key group of great comic actors. Whether watching Laurel & Hardy, The Three Stooges, the Marx Brothers, or modern teams like Adam Sandler and Kevin Hart, the joy is always in witnessing their overcompensation towards the mundane and reminding us to laugh at the reflection of ourselves. Comedic greats allow us to remove the weight of things off our shoulders no matter what the setting. Niebergall and his costars fully achieve this goal in a hilarious take on office politics and the idea that the Rolling Stones expressed, “You can’t always get what you want but if you try sometime you find you get what you need.”
Any fan of either the British or American versions of TV’s The Office will readily be amused by JAPAN. An overly eager, somewhat politically incorrect boss like Pat Dunkling will seem incredibly familiar to fans of either show. Pat is not derivative of David Brent or Michael Scott but he is an archetype of this manner. He is overly exuberant and we get the feeling that he very easily falls in and out of love with anything that he can take on as a persona to make himself more interesting, often to the discomfort of those around him. When Dunkling returns from holiday in Japan, he decides that he will have two interns compete for a paid position with the company via a karaoke battle. Rivas’s performance as Dunkling is well contained and not over the top, which is difficult considering his Japanese stereotype infused wardrobe, hair, and makeup. The true belly laughs are delivered courtesy of Marty and Nolan. While preparing for the competition, we see both men have a glimpse of their past as well as their future. The hyperbolic visions of both are there to tell us how we all invest a little too much of ourselves in every small event that occurs, or at least the ones we have deemed to be truly important.
Niebergall has shown a wide range in films, although all have comedy at their core. In films like WANDA he plays a man who is at times threatening and quick to become violent; passionate and somewhat menacing. In Dissection it was fear; in Giordano it was desperation, but Marty in this film is a genuinely likeable and harmless guy. Viewer’s get the sense that Marty wants to do well but doesn’t want to step on anyone’s toes in the process…unless he is pushed, which happens in JAPAN. Niebergall (who won a Canadian Comedy Award in 2015) describes his character stating, “Marty is an unmotivated, classic privileged white male. He’s 25 years old and he’s never had anything to be afraid of except for maybe hard work. He comes from a long line of very successful men and he represents the apple that really did actually fall pretty far away from the tree, if trees could throw apples instead of dropping them. However, when Marty’s sedentary bubble is burst by Pat Dunkling’s offer of a potential promotion he is suddenly willing to put his all into winning the competition. He feels he can make up for his whole life by trying hard for the first time in this moment. He’s a great character because he reminds me of myself and a lot of people I know who don’t really know or appreciate how good they have it sometimes.” Marty shows us that he is willing to do things he would not normally do because of his fear of failure. This includes copying Nolan’s choice of a Sophie B Hawkins song for the Karaoke battle as well as a hilarious attempt at a very uncomfortable lap dance in the work place. As with other Tony Ho films, it is the chemistry even more than the premise of the film which makes it so amusing and entertaining. Miguel Rivas [Dunkling] gives a large amount of credit for JAPAN’s success to Adam’s approach and improvising commenting, “I had a blast working on Japan with Adam and I love working with him in general. He’s super creative, energetic, and really odd in all the best possible ways. I just love his choices. I remember a point in the movie when his character (Marty) gets embarrassed so Adam stuck his whole torso in a filing cabinet drawer like an ostrich would do in order to hide. That’s such a funny way to express his shame. He’s great at adding stuff like that; stuff that isn’t already in the script. Sometimes he would do even more subtle things, like the way he wears his tie just a bit too short. It all comes together to round out a really weird, funny character. He has a really vibrant personality and it shows in his work. And his singing?? Those high notes!?? I think I remember the main reason we used Sophie B. Hawkins in the Karaoke competition was because Adam would go around singing “Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover” all the time as if it were a normal thing to do. Then we thought it would be so funny if both songs were by Sophie B. Hawkins so we chose “As I Lay Me Down” for Roger.” Roger Bainbridge confirms, “Working with Adam on the movie Japan was awesome. His voice was crucial for the piece, because he’s excellent at playing sweet, confused oddballs. He completely nailed the Marty character, this child struggling to be a grown up. His performance helped to set the tone for the entire film. Japan was one we never seemed to stop writing. Adam came up with some of my favorites, like having the misinformed Pat Dunkling character thinking that ‘massages in Japan are just sex’. We had to cut one of his favorites from the movie about Marty and Nolan venturing a guess that ‘Saki’ was ‘soccer for babies.’
No spoilers here. Adam’s character Marty both does and does not win, you’ll have to go see JAPAN to truly understand. The film’s conclusion is not what the viewer takes away for the experience, rather it is Adams’s performance as Marty that endears you and causes you to hope for his success in spite of himself. It is easy to see the adult that is struggling to break through Adam’s stunted emotional growth. It’s the characteristic that Niebergall most enjoys about Marty. He reveals, “You can’t amuse someone if you can’t amuse yourself. I think the more personal you can make your comedy the funnier it will be. The best comedy often bares some horrible secret. If it draws people in because they are surprised to relate to something or it wakes someone up to how great it is that all people have something strange about them, it creates a feeling of sharing.”