There are a number of things that can attract you to a film: box office success and not wanting to be the only one who hasn’t seen it (I really must go and see “Parasite”); star lead actors and actresses who everyone wants to see (I really must go and see “Parasite”); or a very, very good name (I really must go and see “Parasite”) . Tetsu Maeda’s “A Banana? At this Time of Night?” has all of these things, but only one of them made this one of the films I most wanted to see in 2019.
I didn’t see it in 2019, but in early 2020, but the minute I saw that title, I knew the film would probably be a bit silly in parts, decent in others, but overall probably quite average as a film. But the name kept drawing me in. I’m so suggestive. But all silliness aside, “A Banana? At this Time of Night?” actually tackles some serious issues.
Yasuaki Kano (Yo Oizumi) is a man paralysed by his muscular dystrophy. As such, he has a whole team of volunteers to help him about his daily life in his small apartment. One of these volunteers is medical student Tanaka (Haruma Miura). His girlfriend Misaki (Mitsuki Takahata), suspicious of where he is spending so much of his freetime, follows him into Yasuaki’s apartment. Yasuaki, not knowing who she is, immediately assumes she is another volunteer, and demands she joins Tanaka on the nightshift. It is here, at 2 in the morning, that Yasuaki demands a banana.
Tanaka and Misaki’s relationship is not disclosed, and Yasuaki takes quite a shine to the young woman and, out of sympathy, she agrees to go on a date with him; a date on which he promptly soils himself.
Yasuaki is very demanding of his volunteer army. He doesn’t ask, more expects the most from them at all hours of the day. As such, his relationship with his various carers is that of bickering family members, with his carers not taking a sympathetic stance with him. He wants to live an “independent” life – as much as he possibly can – free from hospitalisation and following his dreams. His carers, therefore, are his assistants in achieving his life goals, not people he shows thanks towards for giving up their time for him.
As Misaki starts to spend more time with Yasuaki, Tanaka becomes increasingly unsure of himself as a potential doctor and unsure of his relationship with Misaki, especially on discovering she has been dishonest with him. Tanaka, therefore, walks away from his life, his love and his patient. He took to volunteering to experience what treating a patient is really like, but the relationship perhaps became too personal.
As time goes on, Yasuaki’s health deteriorates further, and inevitable hospitalisation follows. He continues to stubbornly refuse, putting even greater strain on his diminishing group of carers, as the relationships become more than simply patient-carer.
The film is based on the life of Yasuaki Shikano that was covered in Kazufumi Watanabe’s 2003 book of the same name, having spent an extended period with him. He had over five hundred carers throughout his life, and not always the most friendly of relationships. Maeda shows the frustrations that the carers have with Yasuaki and how caring isn’t always about being nice to the patient. But Yasuaki cares little for these frustrations on the surface. He has his sights set on what he wants to achieve and the caregivers are people to help him get there. While more than appreciative of them, he is not about to show it.
Rather than over-sympathising, we are given a three-way love story, with Misaki the dual love interest. As a box office hit, it is natural that a love story is weaved into this scenario. Yasuaki is determined, feeling he can win the heart of a younger lady despite his situation. This determination is what defines Yasuaki: a man who doesn’t want to be a burden on his parents’ lives, and so the carers serve as his family, with the feuds thrown in. His methods may not always be the most kind, but you want him to succeed.
Oizumi is perfectly cast as Yasuaki, with quite simply the perfect face for it. In a role where physical movement is limited, it is all about his facial expressions, and Oizumi certainly has an entertaining face. The rest of the cast has well-known faces throughout, mixing between joy, despair and frustration.
But can the title live up to expectation – even though the expectation had already been dismissed? Well, if truth be told, “A Banana? At this Time of Night?” is not a great film, but not bad either. It perhaps has the cliché happy ending, where everything works out for the best, as we all look up to a clear blue sky. But, not taking a sympathetic stance, it doesn’t force emotion on to us too strongly; a comedy, without ever becoming a romp. As such, it bumbles along nicely enough for good entertainment value.
But, it does also educate as to the how patient-carer relationships might not always be so caring. These are the people who spend the most time with the patient and some of the most intimate moments at that. As such, these are almost mini-marriages, where both sides can be arseholes, and might just need to be shown where they can shove their banana, whatever the time of day.