If you’re looking for a laugh out loud, feel good comedy that doesn’t take itself seriously then this is the movie for you. Hiroshi Abe plays the main character Lucius Modestus, a Roman bath architect in 128 AD who gets sucked down a water vortex and time travels to modern day Japan. He is amazed by the “flat faced” clan’s innovations in bath technologies and replicates what he sees when he returns to the past to great success in Rome. Coincidentallly, he always seems to teleport to a place in Japan that is near a manga artist who is immediately attracted to him.
Most of the laughs come from Lucius’ reactions of amazement to the simplest of modern day bath accessories. Even funnier are the ways he replicates the modern bath technologies he observed with primitive Roman technology (usually a lot of slaves). We learn early on that when Lucius is in deep thought about his next bath design, that he will drown in a water vortex of some sort. He seems to easily return to his original time and place in Rome although the trigger for this is actually nicely revealed in a slightly sad scene. Don’t worry though, this is mostly an upbeat film with a happy ending. Credit to Hiroshi Abe’s great comedic talents, deadpan inner monologues and hilarious facial expressions for keeping things light but not totally wacky.
If there is a weakness, it’s the political intrigue stuff that occurs in Rome. Luckily this doesn’t occupy a lot of the film. Some might find it absurd how a bathhouse can help in a war but I admit I didn’t even pay that much attention to this because I was laughing so much. Again, this isn’t a movie you take seriously so if you’re really anal about the story then there is no hope for your sense of humour. Battle scenes also look obviously amateurish but since it’s not the main focus, it’s easy to let slide. The Roman bath houses and outdoor sets look splendid and these parts were apparently filmed at the Cinecitta studio in Rome. Hiroshi Abe himself is often running around butt naked, so the ladies have that to look forward to as well. Visually the film is nice to look at, overall.
Side note: This was based on a manga whose final volume was recently released and apparently a live action sequel will be released in 2014. I admit, I’m not really sure a sequel is necessary since I can’t imagine what new jokes they could make with the premise.