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Screening: ‘Thermae Romae’

Pac-Arts Quarterly Screening Is A Time Traveling Comedy

Above: Hiroshi Abe (center) is a time-traveling Roman in "Thermae Romae."

You don’t get many films that are in Japanese and Latin. And you don’t get many Japanese time traveling comedies about ancient Rome but “Thermae Romae” (the Pac-Arts March Quarterly screening tonight at 7pm at the La Jolla Arclight) is all that.

Pac-Arts (which also sponsors the San Diego Asian Film Festival) tries to keep a diverse array of Asian films in the public eye year round. Quarterly screenings along with the upcoming Spring Showcase do just that.

“Thermae Romae” is a quirky comedy that opens in Ancient Rome and looks to an architect named Lucius (“Godzilla 2000’s” Hiroshi Abe), who’s serious, glum, and just not able to keep up with the times. So he loses his job. To cheer him up, a friend takes him to a bathhouse where Lucius slips through a kind of time tunnel and plops down in modern bathhouse in Japan. Suddenly he sees all sorts of modern inventions to inspire him and when he transports back to Rome, he puts those ideas to good use.

The film is a mix of “Hot Tub Time Machine,” the French comedy “Les Visiteurs,” and a touch of “Spartacus.” The film is simple, often cute, and relies heavily of physical comedy. But its winning charm is that it knows its limitations and is quite content to play with them. It plays up the hunky appeal of a mostly unclothed Abe walking around Japan and his amazement and befuddlement in regards to Japan’s modern inventions. In a way, the film is a celebration of Japanese ingenuity and comically suggests that Japan might have been the source of Rome’s success.

Directed by Hideki Takeuchi (essentially a TV director in Japan), the film does have a clever visual sense of humor. Takeuchi provides a cast of supporting actors – especially a set of adorable and tiny aged Japanese men who make Abe look like a giant – that provide a continual source of amusement. He also plays up Lucius’ seriousness against the absurdity of situation and his constant confusion by the modern world.

“Thermae Romae” (in Japanese and Latin with English subtitles) is by no means a great film but it is charmingly entertaining and easy to enjoy. I tend to favor the more extreme Asian filmmaking but films like this are obviously more crowd-pleasing and make filling a theater much easier. Pac-Arts says tickets are selling fast for this one-time screening so if you are interested, I suggest getting there early or buying tickets online.

Companion viewing: “Les Visiteurs,” “Hot Tub Time Machine,” “Time After Time”

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