The Grab Bag: Executive Koala (2005)

To state the obvious, the Japanese are responsible for some of the most fucked up shit ever. I tortured myself for a less vulgar way of expressing that sentiment, but there just isn’t one. From Hello Kitty Vibrators (oh, yes they exist) , to toilet paper inscribed with poetry, to virtual bubble wrap you can pop over and over, when it comes to the strange, the Japanese have a corner on the market. So it came as no surprise to me when I heard about a Japanese director who filled his movies with anthropomorphic animals. All I knew is that I had to see one, and how could I resist a title like…..
Executive Koala (2005) starring Lee Ho, Eiichi Kikuchi, and Arthur Kuroda. Directed by Minoru Kawasaki. 

Mr. Tamura (Ho) is your average executive at Japan’s number one pickled food company. He works long days, he pitches kimchi deals to his boss, and he happens to be a koala. All seems to be going right in Mr. Tamura’s life until one day a couple of detectives show up to talk to him. It seems his girlfriend, Yoko, has been murdered, and after discovering Tamura’s wife had been missing for the last 3 years, they begin to suspect him. At first the furry businessman is sure he is innocent, but as he delves into a world filled with repressed memories, sinister Bunny bosses, and strange unsettling nightmares, he finds out the world is often not black and white, but grey… like a koala. 

The Bugg Picture

I must admit the joke at the end of the synopsis is not my own. It’s a line delivered by a cop who doubt’s the titular koala’s guilt with the actual line being “This case is not black and white. It’s grey like a koala. “. These kind passing references are the closest you are going to get in this film to anyone making a big deal about Mr. Tamura being a koala. While it is an important part of the film, it is not the main focus, and from what I understand that’s director Kawasaki’s thing. 

He’s made films featuring a Calamari Wrestler, a Crab soccer player (Kani Goalkeeper), and a cop who uses his toupee as a lethal weapon (The Rug Cop). Needless to say Kawasaki has something of a strange sense of humor. In reading a bit about Executive Koala, I’ve noticed that some people think this film is totally devoid of humor and a complete waste of time, but the sagest advice came from a reviewer on Netflix which I will paraphrase. If the idea of a koala in a business suit being sucked into a murder mystery seems interesting to you, then you’ll probably enjoy this film. 

One of the problems with reviewing this film is how do you critique the acting of someone in a koala costume. The answer I came up with is that you don’t. You just say that, for a guy with a koala head on, somehow Lee Ho managed to bring emotion though in his performance. It’s easy to get emotionally involved with the character, and I have to admit that much of that possibly comes from Mr. Tamura being so damn cute. The other actors in the film (who were not listed by character on the DVD or IMDB so I’m not sure who was who) all did fine jobs, and you have to give it up to them for being able to keep a straight face in some of the more intense scenes they had to share with Ho’s Tamura. I also really enjoyed the addition of 2 other animal characters in the Bunny boss and a Frog convenience store worker. The latter of the two I would love to see in a sequel. Third Shift Clerk Frog anyone?

The major props have to go to director Kawasaki, who also co-wrote the picture, and Yasutaka Nagano, the cinematographer who also worked on the much lauded Machine Girl. In the old USA if a film with such a low brow concept was made (see Peter Rottentail or any of the Teen Ape movies from Chris Seaver), it would come at the cost of professionalism and technique. That’s just not so here. There are some incredible shots in the film, and the camera is used effectively to create mood as the story moves along. While it starts very standard and flat, like an executive’s world would be, as the mystery thickens, the camera angles become strange, the cuts come faster, and the lighting becomes more intense. Kawasaki might have started with what was a laughable concept, but the film he turned in was adept and interesting throughout.

However, it does have a problem being consistent. While the first two acts are fairly easy to follow, the last third of the film becomes somewhat disjointed as twist after twist is thrown at the audience. I assume this was meant to satirize the “gotcha” ending of so many thrillers, but having the ending being so cluttered and messy really took away from what the movie did so well, have fun. Anyone who goes into this movie taking it seriously is asking for a bad time. Instead, if you take Executive Koala for what it is, bizarre and funny with its tongue firmly fitted in its cheek, then I can assure you that you will have a good time, you will never have seen anything like it, and you wonder what the Japanese will come up with next. 

Bugg Rating


  1. I've never heard of these strange films of Kawasaki before. I'm going to have to track this one down.

  2. Okay, this is a must-see for me now. I love the Japanese for doing this sort of thing. Not just on occasion, but ALL THE TIME.


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