Later this week I'll be on my way overseas on a flight, but no that's not the chief reason why this film appealed to me. I had chanced upon the film's release when in Tokyo last year and the trailer had caught my attention for its potential to provide some madcap humour. What's more, it stars one of my favourite Japanese actresses in Haruka Ayase, whose performance in Cyborg, She I had enjoyed, so it's only logical that I picked this film over others releasing this week.
Happy Flight is a delightful surprise surpassing my expectaions, where it features a myriad of characters and an ensemble cast to bring about an end to end presentation of just about everything that goes on behind the scenes from the operations of the ground crew at the check in counter, to the maintenance team, from the control tower operations centre and right up into the aircraft with the duties of the pilot and that of the cabin crew. Frequent travellers usually treat everything behind the scenes as a black box which just clicks and works, and this film provides that extra awareness and appreciation of the one million things that can and are happening, and in the worst case scenario, something simple that can go so wrong.
Which to All Nippon Airways, it's quite gutsy of them to open up and brand this film. I cannot see how a similar film can be done locally without jumping through some major hoops, and probably end up with folks being unhappy about how things can get portrayed on screen. But unlike films such as Flightplan, this one doesn't belittle any of the departments, but smartly fuses comedy without becoming veiled insults. I suppose Shinobu Yaguchi, who had helmed films like Waterboys and Swing Girls, proved to be the right person to craft a potentially complex tale on what goes on in aviation, and what he did was simply put, amazing.
Cleverly fusing all the different narratives and subplots, he had presented the films as a series of quick short stories, although each engaging enough to make you want to know more. While some characters can be caricatures, he pumped them up with enough engaging incidents to ultimately bring out that smile. It's also key that he had provided some behind the scenes insights from the industry, that would make you sit up and take notice, with nuggets of trivia coming from every angle and every department featured.
And not to forget the office politics within the department themselves, and when they interact with each other (I chuckled at the tai-chi attempt), everyone depending on one another's professional expertise to ensure a pleasant flight experience for every single passenger the minute he or she steps into the airport ready for their flight out. But of course sometimes things tend to rub off the wrong way, and for dramatic sake, could be slightly exaggerated especially on what takes place within the cabin, which most of us would be aware of, or from hearsay support some urban myths.
Narratively, we follow many viewpoints. We have a first officer Kazuhiro Suzuki (Seiichi Tanabe) in his final test flight to become a captain, and his Flight 1980 is assessed by an unsmiling Captain Noriyoshi Harada (Saburo Tokito) in the cockpit, which puts him under additional pressure given his disastrous attempt at the flight simulator. Then we have the ditzy cabin attendant Etsuko Saito (Haruka Ayase) who's a Calamity Jane under the supervision of Reiko Yamazaki (Shinobu Terajima) and a competing peer Mari Tanaka (Kazue Fukiishi). On the ground the subplots also extend to Tomoko Tabata's ground crew Natsumi Kimura, and Ittoku Kishbe's flight operations controller, and the list goes on, extending even toward an incident at the maintenance hangar, and a trio of comedic aviation geeks. And if all these don't seem enough, there's an oncoming typhoon to add to the chaos!
But the beauty of it is that you won't be a wee bit confused, or at any time does the story seem bloated, or sub plots unnecessary. Everything comes together in good time like clockwork, almost exactly the same experience you'll feel when boarding a plane for a trip. Working dynamics and office politics also deftly creeps into the film and presents to you the not-so-glamourous side to any job, although it does take the time to remind you that reputations that precede could also be misconstrued, and there's nothing wrong in holding back pre-judgements until you experience something yourself first hand.
Opening with an inflight safety video, I like the film enough to rank it one of my favourites of this year, for being that perfect balance between comedy, drama, and that valuable look into what makes aviation tick. Highly recommended, so do flock to the only screen in Singapore that's showing this as an exclusive showcase!