Stephen reviews: Project A-ko 3: Cinderella Rhapsody (1988)

projecta-ko3_1Project A-ko 3: Cinderella Rhapsody [プロジェクトA子3 シンデレララプソディ] (1988)

Starring Miki Ito, Emi Shinohara, Michie Tomizawa, Tessho Genda, Shuichi Ikeda, Asami Mukaidono, Daisuke Gori, Sayuri Ikemoto

Directed by Yuji Moriyama

This time the series takes an odd turn. Cinderella Rhapsody starts off with a sepia-toned scene of several women playing pool. The style is much more realistic, and the tone is closer to film noir than slapstick. It focuses on subtle movements and glances like the slight jostle of earrings when someone tilts her head. It is only with great effort that you can tell the characters are actually A-ko, B-ko, and C-ko. The scene plays out slowly, without any comedy other than A-ko’s break shot literally breaking the balls, and your first thought upon seeing it will probably be, “Did I just put on the wrong movie?”

In a way, this scene is a good metaphor for the entire film. It’s out of place, the jokes are less frequent, it plays its parodies too straight, and it’s just kinda boring. What’s more, the opening scene has some of the best animation since the original film, making it feel like a waste of effort that could have gone into a more interesting scene. Overall, Cinderella Rhapsody is a disappointing entry in the series.

projecta-ko3_2As you probably expected from the title, the plot this time is based upon Cinderella, but it can’t keep the character roles straight, so the concept comes out feeling confusing rather than funny. It’s spring break, and A-ko wants to lose some weight, find a boyfriend, and buy a fancy new dress. So she starts exercising and gets a part-time job at a fast food restaurant. Soon she runs into a hot guy named Kei that leaves her smitten, and B-ko is also immediately smitten by the tall, dark, and handsome motorcycle driver. A-ko and B-ko try to outperform each other to hook Kei for themselves, and C-ko feels left out and abandoned, dredging up conflict between her and A-ko.

The problem is that Kei is actually smitten with C-ko, and nobody realizes it. So is A-ko supposed to be Cinderella, or is it C-ko? A-ko fits the role of wicked step-sister, but the movie still plays her as the hero which makes it confusing. It’s kind of muddled and leaves the viewer trying to figure out what’s going on rather than sitting back and enjoying the jokes. It also loses any sense of plot twist since the audience is already aware that Kei loves C-ko. A-ko and B-ko are the only ones surprised by the plot twist. Since we know that A-ko and B-ko’s actions are pointless, it makes the whole film seem pointless, too. I can kinda see where they were trying to go with this one, but the twists on the Cinderella story only work in hindsight and we all know that hindsight isn’t the best way to experience a joke.

projecta-ko3_3A lot of this feels wrong for a Project A-ko film anyway. The conflict between A-ko and C-ko doesn’t fit the character dynamics, and B-ko suddenly switching her obsessions from C-ko to Kei is just plain inexplicable. The whole scenario feels forced. A-ko and B-ko are only smitten so that they can play the roles of the wicked step-sisters, not because it actually makes sense for the characters. This might not have mattered as a comedy, except that the story is played so straight that it doesn’t feel like a parody at all.

It might have been parodying titles that I’m just not familiar with, but even then there’s nothing about the scenario that has any innate humor to it. The original concept was humorous because it set up such a strange relationship between the characters. B-ko’s refusal to let go of a kindergarten argument and her adoration of a character whose traits can only be described as horrifically obnoxious is great fodder for comedy even when you don’t know what specific movies it’s making fun of. This time the concept is too much of a normal romance plot to be humorous. Nothing about the setup seems out of place in a realistic story, so focusing on it just makes the story slow and bland.

projecta-ko3_4That’s not say that there are no jokes in Cinderella Rhapsody. There’s actually quite a few, but they are all outside the scope of the story itself, just random events in the background that don’t really have to do with what’s going on in the plot. The jokes are at least pretty good for the most part, so there is a fair amount to salvage out of this train wreck, but none of it negates the fact that the film is a pretty big mess.

It’s also disappointing that B-ko’s father doesn’t make an appearance at all. After making Project A-ko 2 so memorable, his absence now is a huge blow to the film. The aliens are also downplayed, making only a brief appearance at the end. The big party that every Cinderella story must have is held on their spaceship, which has now been remodeled into an amusement park called Space Ship Land. But other than the setting, they have no connection to the plot. Also, the action has been left out almost entirely, leaving even the end of the film rather void of excitement. This lack of action completely ruins the ending, which might have made the film much more enjoyable.

projecta-ko3_5The ending started off promising at any rate. A-ko and B-ko start fighting, and the military bails on things. In response, a massive alert goes out to a bizarre force of private citizens that mobilize in grandiose superhero fashion. This mobilization is probably the best part of the film with all kinds of crazy shit popping out of nowhere. The best being the porno theater that interrupts its movie for the alert and a bunch of grumbling horny guys begrudgingly trudge their way out of the theater to join the battle. It has all the makings of an amazing action scene which then simply doesn’t occur. It’s as if the writers got stuck and said, “Screw it. Just roll the credits.” It ends about as abruptly as Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and with only slightly more closure.

I wish I could say more good things about this film. I want to like it, and every time I see it I want it to be better than I remember, but it’s definitely not up to the usual Project A-ko standards. There’s still enough good comedy to be worth a watch for anyone interested, but there’s a lot of waiting in between the good bits. If the first film was great, and the second film was pretty good, then Project A-ko 3 struggles just to be average.

If you want to track it down, you may need to nab a copy of the compilation disc Project A-ko: Love & Robots, where it resides sandwiched between the second and fourth films.

Project A-ko has some interesting promotional materials, but none more amazing than this bizarre music video for Cinderella Rhapsody’s theme song.

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