Zoned: Mannequins Delight
Mannequin heads roll as Animefringe delves in the Region 2 DVD market with a look at Vermillion Pleasure Night, The Fuccon Family and OH! Mikey.
Mannequins make for great comedy. Why, without a mannequin torso, Ferris Bueller wouldn't have been able to have his day off and Kim Cattrall's Emmy wouldn't have ever become Jonathan's plastic muse. Yes, mannequins have even helped to keep fewer men from even thinking about sticking their bits in those holes that circulated water in pools. But in Japan, one family of mannequins managed to become a cultural phenomenon. They are The Fuccon Family.
While their time in the spotlight has become a faint glimmer of their former glory, the Fuccon's continue to win curious viewers over with their bizarre concept, simple humor and addictive laughter. This unique show is the perfect starting place for this unique new column, Zoned, to springboard into the fascinating world of foreign DVDs.
The Fuccon Family began as a series of sketches on a late-night variety show in Japan entitled Vermillion Pleasure Night in 2001. VPN was the brain child of Yoshimasu Ishibashi, an independent filmmaker and former art student that received some acclaim for his equally bizarre black and white film Kurowasetai No ("I Wanna Make You Crazy"), and it can only be described as being the amalgamation of Saturday Night Life, MadTV and In Living Color in one bizarre and highly entertaining package. VPN at its simplest was a series dedicated to showcasing sketches starring highly attractive young woman that could sing and dance with a mix of short films.
Like any variety show, VPN would open simply enough with a short teaser and then break into its opening credits set to old folk-style accordion music --a start contrast to the heavy-techno beats seen in the later The Color of Life movie and elsewhere in the series. Next any number of sketches would appear. While complete comprehension of the truly bizarro nature of the show can only be experienced first hand, for fun, we shall delve into a number of them. Just keep in mind these famous words from The Color of Life: "Vermillion is the name of a color, it is the color of a scream."
We shall skip The Fuccon Family for now and move onto "Zombie Family", a live-action segment starting three ladies dressed in grotesque undead make-up. A typical installment goes something like this; two undead teens are sitting with their zombie mother talking about the normal trivialities of life when one of the teens slips up by saying something about how the other, say, has been going on subsidized dates. The mother then goes psycho and breaks out a hatchet and thrusts it into the offending teen's head. The "good" teen ends up pissing off Mom and gets an axe to the head as well. Rinse and repeat ad nauseum.
"Midnight Cooking" seems to get the most mileage, as it does not settle on one particular style. The primary host is a seemingly normal woman with an addictive smile whose taste of "exotic foods" would be right at home with Hannibal Lector. Businessmen and Ko-Gals are often on the planned menu, but often things go terribly wrong in the kitchen, leaving the host worse for wear. Other times, the psychotic chef abandons her apron for a traditional kimono and a co-host, in order to regale the audience with heartfelt songs about slaving away over a hot stove.
"Starship Residence" finds a quasi-humanoid amoebae trying to just get by in the universe, but slime-encrusted meteorites or high-strung date therapists always seem to leave him in hot water with the vampire woman a floor below. "Dr. Phero" is more of a music number, but seemingly cut from the same cloth. One segment, "Needle in the Bum", finds two sexy nurses jabbing hypodermic needles into patients' derrieres, leaving them screaming out either in pain or in ecstasy to the funky beat.
"6 Singing Girls" spotlights the show's musicians as they go about performing tunes that give new meaning to the song "Whistle while you work." The Matrix-esque "Quick Girl" follows a series of female hitmen in a world where everyone is out to kill them. "Juvenile Takako" takes the mannequin formula of The Fuccon Family and turns it on its head by dropping a sole human girl in a world where mannequins are everywhere. The comedy in this segment is derived from Takako's constant need to fly-off-the-hinge and smash up any mannequin she comes across.
Several animated segments exist, including a Claymation one that makes SNL's old "Mr. Bill" sketch look like Wallace and Gromit, as well as a musical number involving a woman's interrogation in the back of a cop car and later in her apartment. One sketch is sure to stick with any English viewer and those are the "One Point English Lessons" that star a geisha girl teaching Japanese viewers how to say such useful phrases as "I give good head" and "I feel hornier than a bitch in heat", and then challenges viewers by asking them to use them in a sentence. Here's a hint: "Your grandmother gives good head."
Yes, the list goes on and on, and that is barely scratching the surface. A total of six DVDs have been released, collecting a large number of the sketches found in the series. These DVDs include Vermillion Pleasure Night: Gold, Vermillion Pleasure Nigh Vol. 2-5, and a sixth "Best Of" movie entitled The Color of Life: Vermillion Pleasure Night the Movie. The later features segments from the five prior DVDs with introductions by the creator and remixed Fuccon Family segments. A guidebook was also released around the time of the movie, as well as a TV series soundtrack--Rise: Vermillion Pleasure Night.
With all the oddities found on Japanese television, it is hard to imagine a series such as Vermillion Pleasure Night as not having been done before, but it hadn't. Nearly overnight, it became a cultural phenomenon with catch phrases from the series entering popular Japanese lexicon. Then half a year later, it vanished. Sure, reruns would continue to be seen late into 2002, but no new episodes were being produced. It is said that the show's producer had pulled the plug, but six months of shows is as good of a showing as any.
What would follow the demise of VPN would be a beast of a different nature, one known as OH! Mikey--quite possibly one of the most popular late-night spin-offs ever.
Mikey, for the uninitiated, is the son of James, a clean-cut business man, and Barbara Fuccon, a blonde house wife whose fashion sense screams Donna Reed, and all three were the stars of the massively popular VPN sketch, The Fuccon Family. The first installment begins simply enough with the family's arrival in Japan and then it shows their daily lives in a series of static shots with Japanese voice over. In this world, Mikey getting set on fire, getting possessed, or any number of insane events are commonplace, and anything can be dealt with by laughing uncontrollably in a totally inane manner. A simple formula indeed, but a highly successful one.
A rather skewed comparison could be that The Fuccon Family were like The Simpsons when their breakout success on the The Tracy Ullman Show won them their own series. The Fuccon Family morphed into OH! Mikey and was no longer confined to a simple world populated solely by the core family members and the occasional extra. No, OH! Mikey actually thrives on the fact that it has an ever-growing cast of oddball characters.
In addition to his parents, Mikey now has a sweet little girlfriend named Emily that he pines over, and a prima donna cousin named Laura that secretly wishes she could get with Mikey. There is Mikey's shy teacher, Bob, who is always paired with his mother, who does all the talking. A pair of twins named Tony and Charles constantly show up and start conversations by saying the same thing, only slightly differently, and then they end up disagreeing to the point where they can't recall what they were even arguing about!
Adventures involving Mikey's grandparents, an ill fated crowning as a prince, and even a nightmarish Hallowe'en episode where everyone became vampires, thanks to OH! Mikey's new time slot, less adult humor and expanded cast. The series gained international exposure at various film festivals and quietly became talked about on various blogs and sites. It could be said that Jlist.com were the first to truly capitalize on the huge marketability of the series as a true oddity, but as of yet, no North American anime company has given OH! Mikey, let alone Vermillion Pleasure Night, the time of day.
Perhaps it is the oddball format the series uses. At seventy-eight episodes, each roughly three minutes each, even the Japanese took a stingy route in releasing the series --six OH! Mikey DVDs, each less than forty minutes, but sold at roughly half the price of a normal Japanese DVD. If the series were to receive a US release, it would surely have to have its episode count beefed up. The entire VPN run of The Fuccon Family was also released by itself on a single DVD that chimes in at sixty-seven minutes.
Still, OH! Mikey's cast runs the gambit of the personality spectrum and offers up new and interesting laughs at every turn. It is truly a comedy like no other and one that any Japanphiles should give a look. Media Factory, the company releasing the DVDs, even made importing slightly easier as all of the VPN and OH! Mikey DVDs carry full English subtitles. The only glitch is that while the DVDs are NTSC formatted, they are encoded as Region 2 DVDs. This means that either having a Region Free DVD player or a DVD-Rom software program, such as Remote Selector (www.remoteselector.com) before attempting to view any of these series.
Looking to give any of the series mentioned in this article a try? Then the best places to pick any of the titles mentioned are www.amazon.co.jp, www.cdjapan.co.jp and www.jlist.com. Prices and selections vary amongst all of these sites, but they all ship to North America. Happy hunting! And be sure to join us in two months when we take a look at the Grasshoppa! product line.