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Japan, 2002 (MIFF 2003, Regional Focus)

Director: Sai Yoichi

A prison movie like no other, this amiable biographical film is a sheer delight. Cult manga author Hanawa Kazuichi spend three years in jail, for possession of replica guns he used in simulated battles, and upon release created a popular account of 'doing time'. This is not a Midnight Express-type ordeal, rather a comic-absurdist chronicle, set in a minimum-security facility, full of wonderfully off-centre characters and situations.

Hanawa shares his 'cell' with four other 'hardened criminals', all middle-aged men who have been incarcerated for similarly minor transgressions. Their 'cell' is a cosy space, decorated with tatami matts and silk screens.Their days are filled with routines— scrubbing their already tidy floor, exercise and bath time to name a few. Mealtime is another experience altogether as the men's daily consummations are often mouth-wateringly inviting. Not everything is saki and lotus blossoms, however, as Hanawa spends time in solitary confinement for 'unauthorized communication'—writing down his cell mates' addresses! Bittersweet and deeply humanist, Doing Time was an unexpected hit in its native Japan.

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