“I’m a borderline philosopher. That’s why I read manga”. And the soliloquy goes on with many of the excuses that Masuda Ryouhei’s character in ぼくのおじさん (Boku no Ojisan, My Uncle) raises to justify his indolence and his lack of action (nothing against manga, though).
Working as a 非常勤講師 (part-time university teacher) in Japan can be a tough job if you have to provide for a family and make ends meet, begging for classes here and there. Commuting to different universities on the same day can also keep you half of your day stuck in crowded suburban trains. However, that’s not the case for our protagonist, because teaching only one コマ (Koma, 1’5-hour class) a week, he can have for himself all the time of the world to indulge in a life of laziness and procrastination, as he usually does. His salary, though, is likewise, hardly 30,000 yen (265 US dollars) per month. That makes him a poor among the poor. And he must live at his elder sister’s house with her family, being scolded by all members of the family, including his nephew and his niece, but with whom he keeps a close relationship. The same way the pre-Socratic Stoics claimed that philosophers should be immune to misfortune, he sees himself as a kind of a thinking genius, and tries to overcome the constant humiliations with a simple “Wow!” and quoting Kant.
A single uncle –in this case he doesn’t even seem to have a name, because it is not mentioned in the film– is an interesting figure for children. It’s supposed to an adult, but since it’s not a parent and doesn’t have the obligation to educate, he can become more of a buddy than other thing. That’s the case in this movie, where the middle-school boy, Yukio, is even more mature than the おじさん ojisan, and must takes care of him more than once.
However, there is not only family relations and comedy in the film, because a female character shows up in the ojisan’s life; and that changes everything. He seems to switch from his former good-for-nothing attitude to another one, more of a combative and pro-active man, as in Don Quixote’s discussion about guns and letters, or even compared to Unamuno’s philosophical character Augusto Pérez’s determination to do anything to get the love of a female passerby. And through Eri, a fourth generation Japanese-American in Hawaii, another interesting topic is grafted in the plot: the descendants of Japanese in the US during WWII, kept isolated in concentration camps, and only at the end allowed to participate in the war in Europe, far from the land of their ancestors. The movie, more interested in showing a touristic Hawaii, doesn’t enter the controversy –now of current concern thanks to Trump–, but the topic is there, ready to be caught by any intelligent spectator.
In summary, this is an unpretentious film that will make you spend a good time and burst into laughter from time to time, thanks to the 空気読めない (Kuuki Yomenai, not able to understand situations) but at the same time likable character of the ojisan, quite well played by Masuda. And great music, by the way, quite cheerful, in the line of The Sting.