Comedy, Films, Japan, Reviews

Turtles Are Surprisingly Fast Swimmers

Slight but charming comedy about a young woman intent on spicing up her life as a spy…

Trapped in a mundane existence, Suzume ‘Sparrow’ Katakura (Juri Ueno, Summer Time Machine Blues, Child by Children) is a very ordinary young woman living a very ordinary life. Her husband, posted overseas, only calls to check she’s feeding their pet turtle. She envies her best friend ‘Peacock’ for being a free spirit, and wishes she could be in some way special.

Her world is turned upside down when she quite by chance comes across an tiny advertisement recruiting spies. When she contacts the number on the ad she find an equally innocuous couple that claim to be ‘sleepers’ for a foreign land. Impressed by her extraordinary ‘ordinariness’ they enrol her as a member of their spies.

Soon her daily routine becomes the most exciting thing in the world, until she thinks too hard about remaining unnoticed by all – just what exactly is normal? And unknown to the spies, the authorities are beginning to close in their whereabouts.

Turtles Are Surprisingly Fast Swimmers starts off well, with director Miki Satoshi building a small but perfectly formed world of eccentric characters around our over-imaginative lead. Reminiscent of Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Amelie or Wisit Sasanatieng’s Citizen Dog, he cuts a fine line between touching quirkiness and out-and-out slapstick. But then the line breaks, and afraid of changing the general tone and allowing the film to truly resonate with its audience, Satoshi seems to lose his way.

It’s like he just doesn’t know where to go next with the pretext of the film and it’s cast. Is it because if our leads are truly sleepers, then things would become most unpleasant, and that would change the whole tone of the movie? Instead, Satoshi leads us to a rather unsatisfying conclusion, never really answering our questions about the couple and their mysterious employer. Nor does he significantly evolve our hero Sparrow at the end.

Though Turtles echoes the films of peers like Tetsuya Nakashima, director of Kamikaze Girls and Memories Of Matsuko, it lacks the completeness and energetic if somewhat overwhelming technical style. It’s highly enjoyable, but somehow the parts just don’t quite connect at the end. What could well have been a powerful – if wonderfully underplayed – comment about conformity, seemingly appropriate for a Japanese film, instead falls rather flat.

Home media details

Distributor: Third Window Films (UK)

Good but not outstanding transfer of the film. Sadly the only extras included are the original trailer.

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Andrew Heskins
Founder of, which he's been running since 2002. And it's all thanks to Monkey, Water Margin and those damn fantastic 80s Hong Kong action movies! Andy works as a graphic designer in London... More »

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2 thoughts on “Turtles Are Surprisingly Fast Swimmers

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