ExecutiveKoalaJapanese director Minoru Kawasaki’s follow-up to his cult hit THE CALAMARI WRESTLER was this goofy 2005 psycho thriller about a businessman koala bear who may or may not be a murderer. That description should tell you all you need to know.

Minoru Kawasaki’s THE CALAMARI WRESTLER (or IKA RESURAA), from 2004, was about a squid who becomes a champion wrestler. In the following year’s EXECUTIVE KOALA (KOARA KACHO) Kawasaki tried his hand at another animal-themed movie, though far less successfully. Subsequent Kawasaki productions include KABUTO-O BEETLE (2005), about a wrestling beetle, THE WORLD SINKS EXCEPT JAPAN (2006—no animals in this one), and PUSSY SOUP (2008), about a soup-making cat.

Tamura is a six-foot koala bear working in the office of a pickle distribution company run by a rabbit. One day Tamura’s girlfriend Yoko turns up dead, having been stabbed 30 times, and Tamura becomes the main suspect. A letter turns up (apparently) from Yoko, claiming she fears for her life because of Tamura’s abuse—of which Tamura himself has no memory.

Yet Tamura begins to wonder if he is indeed the sadist described in the letter, especially after he experiences horrific nightmares in which Yukari arises from the dead and comes after him with an axe, and he, with flashing red eyes, menaces his co-workers. Upon awakening one day Tamura finds the mutilated corpse of one of those very co-workers at the foot of his bed.

Tamura is put in prison for the killing. There he’s beaten savagely, starved and has more nightmares (of which there’s no shortage in this movie). His friend, a frog convenience store clerk, sends in a ferret with a set of keys to let Tamura out of his cell. But there are powerful people who want him out of the picture, and will stop at nothing to accomplish their goal!

As in THE CALAMARI WRESTLER, the aim here was to insert guys in ridiculous animal costumes—a rabbit, frog and of course koala—into a more-or-less straightforward drama, with the human characters totally unfazed by the presence of these critters, or the (apparently deliberate) cheapness of their costumes (note the visible zippers!). This approach worked reasonably well in CALAMARI but not so well here.

As a psychological drama EXECUTIVE KOALA fails: the story is poorly developed and over-reliant on repetitive dream sequences, while the title character is never as endearing as Kawasaki seems to believe. As a surreal comedy (complete with campy music numbers and a goofy martial arts sequence) the film also fails—in short, it’s not serious or outrageous enough to succeed.

Vital Statistics

Synapse Films

Director: Minoru Kawasaki
Producer: Shuntaro Kanai
Screenplay: Minoru Kawasaki, Masakazu Migita
Cinematography: Yasutaka Nagano
Cast: Ryu Hariken, Elli Rose, Hironobu Nomura, Lee Ho, Eichi Kikuchi