Leave it to the Nurses

Directed by: Kazuyuk Morosawa
Year: 2002
Production Company: Fuji Television/Pony Canyon
Running Time: 114 minutes

This low-key very mainstream comedy for the most part fell below the radar of Western fans of J-Cinema who tend to focus on the edgier Japanese genres of horror, fantasy and crime. This has all the characteristics of JDorama (Japanese TV) in the same way that Bayside Shakedown does – likable characters, basic flat shooting style, low production costs, mix of comedy and melodrama – for good reason as both films were based on very popular TV shows from the same production house, Fuji TV.  The show ran from 1996 to 2002 (as far as I can tell) and was a popular hit that focused on a small group of nurses in Wakabakai Hospital and the film stars the same group of actors as the TV show did.

Unlike US cinematic makings of TV shows that tend to ramp up the budget to astronomical proportions, the Japanese remakes have no such ambitions and basically keep them very close to the shows in style and substance – just longer! Nevertheless, this is a very appealing film that burrows into your happy glands and not having seen the TV show doesn’t really affect your viewing pleasure at all – in fact it just makes you want to see the TV show (which is out on DVD but without English subtitles). This is a sweet lovable comedy until it takes an almost shocking turn into melodrama towards the end.
Like any good sitcom, the strength of this film rests on the characters and the chemistry between them and of course the actors who play them. The main character is Asakura (Alisa Mizuki) an immensely cheerful but slightly ditzy nurse who dreams of having her honeymoon in the tropics by hopefully winning the Hospital Talent Award prize of a free trip for two. Her partner in the contest is Agaki (Uno Kanda) a fellow nurse who most closely resembles a live cartoon character with her wide eyes, slender body, plucked eyelashes, high forehead and helium-gassed voice – she is a minor comic masterpiece (and the actress has own doll made after her!). The two of them together may be the cutest thing since the Volkswagen bug. The other main characters that fill the show out are Ozaki (Yuki Matsushita) the understanding and loyal section nurse supervisor and Asakura’s husband Takasugi (Naohito Fujiki) who is a young doctor at the same hospital. There are of course the needed adversaries – a smug senior doctor (Yoshizumi Ishihara) and the by the book shrewish Chief nurse (Toshie Negishi) who try and make the lives of the nurses miserable.
The film is going merrily along until a former patient takes the ward hostage after the Chief nurse refuses to re-admit him. As he (Udo Suzuki) confesses, he loved being a patient here where the nurses would smilingly appear as soon as he hit the button and he just wants to come back. With adorable nurses like these I can’t say I blame him! Even being a hostage doesn’t crimp Asakura’s cheerful outlook and she uses the opportunity to order Korean barbecue for everyone since the police are paying for it and then throwing a birthday party for their hostage keeper. Even with the police surrounding the building and snipers on the roof it is impossible to see this film getting at all serious – but then the film completely changes gears and hits the viewer in the stomach with a large dose of life and death melodrama. Somehow it all works together wonderfully well and you wonder afterwards how such a simple and often goofy film could make you feel so good.

My rating of this film: 7.5