Japanese office ladies battle for supremacy in this whacky manga-style brawler…
Female fists fly in the manga-inspired Office Royale, marking the feature debut of TV drama director Kazuaki Seki and written by the multi-talented comedian, actor and playwright Bakarhythm. A hyperactive, self-aware action comedy following battling office ladies, referred to as ‘OLs’, the film stars Mei Nagano (Rurouni Kenshin), backed by a supporting cast that includes actress Alice Hirose (The Travelling Cat Chronicles), Nanao (The Snow White Murder Case) and others in suitably over the top roles.
Mei Nagano plays Naoko, a mild-mannered young woman working as an OL for the company Mitsufuji who generally just keeps her head down and gets on with things, steering clear of office politics and feuds. We soon see why, with office politics in this case translating into violent clashes between different company factions, with department heads leading their troops into battle against each other in a bid for superiority. Although the dreadlocked Shuri (Nanao) is the current top dog, her position is threatened by newcomer Ran (Alice Hirose), a top fighter who reluctantly finds herself pulled into the squabbling. Unexpectedly, Naoko and Ran become friends, though with OL gangs from other companies launching attacks against Mitsufuji things become complicated, not least since Naoko is harbouring a surprising secret.
Office Royale is definitely one for fans of over the top Japanese wackiness, being colourfully energetic and zany from the first frame, coming across like a female, more cartoonish version of Takashi Miike’s Crows Zero series. Kazuaki Seki leans heavily into the absurdity of the situation, dialling the craziness of the situation up to eleven and approaching the film like a live-action manga, throwing in a non-stop onslaught of visual quirks and bizarre touches. The film is very self-aware when it comes to its look and feel, with lots of meta asides, Naoko acting as narrator and often describing her story and later plot developments as being like those in a manga – although this conceit can be a little cloying, Seki certainly has a lot of fun with it, alternating between subverting and ironically sticking to manga conventions. The film does get good comic mileage from this, and from its frantic, inventive slapstick, and is frequently very funny without any pretentions of meaningfulness.
There’s also a great deal of action, the film being driven by its fight scenes and mass brawls, with the rest of the plot basically just being there to move things on to the next set piece. Seki keeps things hurting forward at a fast pace, and though there’s inevitably a lot of CGI the choreography is fun and vaguely violent, enough so to give the film at least a bit of a punch. Some of the fights involve an impressive number of participants, and it all gets very fast and furious, making the film a dizzying, exhausting watch in places, though generally in a good way.
Office Royale does make a few missteps, primarily in some offhand moments which don’t quite fit with the overall gimmick of its female characters being supercharged ultimate fighters, and though to be fair the film never puts itself forward as any kind of feminist fable, these do provide slightly uncomfortable reminder that it’s being seen through the male gaze and as fantasy wish-fulfilment. This is particularly seen in some later plot developments and in the way that it features the female characters reverting to meek and mild OL type when around male colleagues and superiors, something which never quite rings true. Another aspect which may make some viewers uncomfortable is the fact that the three strongest enemy female fighters are played by men (including instantly-recognisable character actor and Miike regular Kenichi Endo), something which is only included so that it can be played for a series of cheap throwaway gags.
This aside, Office Royale makes for entertaining and exciting viewing, and is one of the few films to really nail the live action manga form. Kazuaki Seki shows real creativity and flair in his debut, and the cast certainty all seem to be having fun, something which makes it cheerfully bright and breezy throughout.