Kensaku Watanabe · 2016 · 88 minutes

Manzai comedy duo Emi-Abi’s rising star is halted when funny man Unno (Tomoya Maeno) gets killed in an accident, leaving straight man Jitsudo (Ryu Morioka) without his comedic partner and unsure of the future of his career. Also killed in the accident was Hinako, the sister of the man who introduced Jitsudo to Unno, himself a comedian who has long since abandoned the trade. On his way to pay respects to the deceased he is confronted with the prospect that he might have been just a pretty face with no actual comedic talent. As those who are left continue to grieve, more details on the circumstances of Unno’s death emerge.

Using stark jumps in both time and tone, Watanabe resists the saccharine and instead finds balance within the mixture of tragedy and humor ranging from slapstick to deadpan. In his first film since winning the “Screenplay of the Year” award, he finds a melancholic beauty in the cut-throat world of stand-up comedy, where you are expected to conjure smiles despite not being able to wear one yourself. Overall, life off the stage is grounded, but with surprising moments of the fantastic there is a life-affirming quality to Emi-Abi. The extended clips of the duo’s surreal manzai acts are worth the price of admission and Haru Kuroki shines in her small role as Jistudo’s manager with better comedic chops than he.

Filmography: The Story of Pupu ('98); Loved Gun ('04); Invisible War ('07); Cheer Cheer Cheer! ('08).