What would happen if your penis got angry at you for being a crappy human and decided to just fly away? I mean, detach itself and flap it’s little testicles and shoot through the sky at high speeds all in an attempt to teach you a lesson? It’s absurd and it’s the premise of Popran, the most recent feature film from One Cut of the Dead director Shinichiro Ueda.
Tatsuya Tagami (Yôji Minagawa) is 32 and very successful. Having started his own webcomic company to pursue his dream of publishing original manga while in his 20s. Success is great, but fortune and fame are also isolating at the same time. Sure he has the money and the nice house, and any woman he can choose from, but he also has zero family and zero friends outside of the people who work for him. Then one morning after one of his many nights of sex and drinking he wakes up to discover that well, he’s become a Ken doll with only a small hole where his penis used to be.
Of course, upon the discovery, Tatsuya rushes to the hospital and comes up empty-handed. But when he searches the internet (as one does when a doctor can’t help you), he comes across the Popran Club and attends a meeting. There, the club’s president, Furuta, tells his story. And it turns out Popran, that’s what they call penises here, essentially get mad at their humans and leave, and well, die in six days if they aren’t captured. In an attempt to capture his Popran before the time is up, Tatsuya traces his steps through the city and makes amends along the way. The colleague he once cut off, his estranged wife and daughter, and his parents who disowned him.
Popran is hilarious with potty humor that lands every single time. The effects are magical and more than anything the cast of characters and how they interact truly works, endearingly so at times. But the best part of Popran is that it showcases Ueda’s complete understanding of how to use absurdity as a strong narrative device.
This film serves as an investigation of toxic masculinity, finding vulnerability, and learning how to grow by realizing your mistakes. Tatsuya as a protagonist, is desperate for the vast majority of the film. This panic is what allows the audience to empathize and ultimately see growth when the fear of living life without his penis is superseded by his genuine care to change. It’s fantastic how Ueda bridges unending dick jokes and a flawed character working through his mistakes in life. It’s charming, hilarious, and manages to do something larger than what you think is possible with the subject matter.
That said, the film does, at times, feel disjointed. While the stage is set by understanding the depth that comedy has to offer, at times scenes feel unconnected from one another, primarily when things get more serious. That said, some minor stumbles in execution don’t erase the quality of storytelling and Ueda’s talent for using genre to the extreme.
Popran does more than just make you laugh, and as a leading man, Yôji Minagawa as Tatsuya is perfect. He’s unlikable when he needs to be without losing his endearing presence to ultimately leave you rooting for him in the end by the time the changes happen. Ueda is magical when it comes to filmmaking, and I can’t wait to see what he does next.
Popran screened as a part of the Fantasia International Film Festival 2022.
Popran does more than just make you laugh, and as a leading man, Yôji Minagawa as Tatsuya is absolutely perfect. He’s unlikable when he needs to be without losing his endearing presence to ultimately leave you rooting for him in the end by the time the changes happen. Ueda is magical when it comes to filmmaking and I can’t wait to see what he does next.
Kate Sánchez is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of But Why Tho? A Geek Community. There, she coordinates film, television, anime, and manga coverage. Kate is also a freelance journalist writing features on video games, anime, and film. Her focus as a critic is championing animation and international films and television series for inclusion in awards cycles.