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Fantasia 2021: ‘Office Royale’ review – Instant Fun, never a dull moment

Photo provided by Fantasia

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Office Royale packs a punch with surreal office lady gang street fights reminiscent of Capcom’s Final Fight & Sega’s Streets of Rage. An instant shot of dopamine via nonstop action. You’ll never know what to expect with your morning coffee from now on.

This Fantasia Film Festival review contains spoilers.

Though lead character Naoko Tanaka often refers to the events at her office as something pulled from a Manga, Office Royale feels distinctly video game inspired. The fighting and beat em’up genres in particular. Each gang of office ladies even has their own ‘boss’ leader vying for global domination.

When a gang leader faces off against another, they place the rest of the gang at stake. An unspoken bargaining chip… Should they lose, their opponent gains control of the losing gang.

(Left) Miyuki Ohshima as Etsuko Kanda, (Right) Nanao as Andô Shuri in Office Royale - Photo provided by Fantasia

(Left) Miyuki Ohshima as Etsuko Kanda, (Right) Nanao as Andô Shuri in Office Royale – Photo provided by Fantasia

Office Royale delivers sophisticated fight choreography with very marginal interludes. An action/martial arts fan’s cult favorite in the making. Visually Office Royale is just a joy to watch. Everywhere you look is lavished with vivid colors from the decorated costumes to open scenery shot with precision.

The film intentionally doesn’t take itself too seriously. You’ll find Naoka Tanaka breaking the fourth wall often in her narration comments about Hôjô Ran being a comic book hero. Coffee breaks where the office salarymen are comedically oblivious to the ladies all-out street fights. It’s part of the charm.

You’ll find the office ladies living double lives, calm by the copy machine, ruthless in the yard. Hôjô Ran is routinely being challenged early in Office Royale. Running through the gauntlet of ‘leaders’ in her workplace.

Each one more cartoony than the next, which adds to the fun. The film’s characters are over-the-top and splashed with animated, theatrical personalities.

Mei Nagano as Naoko Tanaka and Alice Hirose as Hôjô Ran  in Office Royale- Photo provided by Fantasia

Mei Nagano as Naoko Tanaka and Alice Hirose as Hôjô Ran in Office Royale- Photo provided by Fantasia

The gang boss hierarchy subtly recalls Street Fighter’s Balrog, Vega, Sagat, M. Bison buildup… Except you don’t know who will end up being M. Bison, thus the film’s intrigue. Especially, if you double as an MMA/Fight fan. You need to know who wins!

A Grand Twist

(Left) Satoru Matsuo as Mari, (Right) Alice Hirose as Hôjô Ran in Office Royale - Photo provided by Fantasia

(Left) Satoru Matsuo as Mari, (Right) Alice Hirose as Hôjô Ran in Office Royale – Photo provided by Fantasia

Director Kazuaki Seki’s and Screenwriter Bakarizumu’s grander vision for Office Royale reveals itself midway. Almost akin to One Cut of the Dead in some ways. Seemingly helpless damsel in distress, Hôjô’s best friend Naoko Tanaka is kidnapped by a rival gang.

Ken'ichi Endô as Ryoko Akagi in Office Royale - Photo provided by Fantasia

Ken’ichi Endô as Ryoko Akagi in Office Royale – Photo provided by Fantasia

Ever the protector Hôjô Ran declines assistance from the rest of her ‘subordinate’ gang leaders and heads out to challenge Ryoko Akagi’s group on her own. At first, it looks like Office Royale will continue in linear fashion. But Hôjô Ran appears to be progressively struggling with Ryoko’s top three lieutenants.

Mei Nagano as Naoko Tanaka in Office Royale - Photo provided by Fantasia

Mei Nagano as Naoko Tanaka in Office Royale – Photo provided by Fantasia

Then the major twist happens, Hôjô Ran loses to Ryoko’s third lieutenant, knocked out cold. Never destined to even fight Ryoko. A sudden off-the-cuff reality check, the hero loses…

Or does she? Was Hôjô really the hero? Or is there more than meets the eye?

You guessed it! The vulnerable, regular everyday office lady, Naoko Tanaka is revealed to be the film’s actual superhero as she absolutely wrecks Ryoko’s entire crew… Including Ryoko himself with ease.

Naoko Tanaka covers up for Hôjô Ran, telling the rest of the group she saved her. But the facade falls apart at the seems when Ryoko returns to the office ladies’ home turf with an ace up his sleeve. The world’s toughest office lady, who once disposed of 32 opponents at once. Shiori Satake, Andô Shuri, and Etsuko Kanda are beside themselves without Hôjô Ran who’d been missing in action since that fateful night.

Rina Kawaei as Shiori Satake, Nanao as Andô Shuri, and Miyuki Ohshima as Etsuko Kanda in Office Royale - Photo provided by Fantasia

Rina Kawaei as Shiori Satake, Nanao as Andô Shuri, and Miyuki Ohshima as Etsuko Kanda in Office Royale. Photo provided by Fantasia

What the group didn’t know was Naoko was responsible for her own escape, while Hôjô never returned to the office out of sheer shame & embarrassment. Ryoko keeps demanding for their real boss to come out. Naoko Tanaka has no choice but to abandon the regular office lady life she always wanted and reveal her true self.

Facing off against the world’s toughest office lady Reina Onimaru, played by actress Eiko Koike, in a anime-like, Dragon Ball Z-esque rumble.

The rest of the group just watches in awe at a fight way out of their ‘power levels’. It’s immensely entertaining and you keep waiting for Hôjô to arrive to fight 2 on 1 vs Reina Onimaru but it never happens… Instead Naoko wins on her own and Hôjô is revealed to be training to take out her one time best friend.

Her weakness according to her new sensei, the world’s first tough office lady, is having actual skill in the office. “You’re just a street fighter, no grace.” – Nippon-saisho no OL, played by actress Shigeru Muroi.

Once Hôjô sets out to challenge Naoko for the title of world’s toughest lady, her sensei mentions Naoko is actually her granddaughter… But Hôjô is already long gone.

Epic office mayhem commences as the two face off in an even more anime-like rooftop final battle. While we won’t reveal who wins the mega fight, we will say the both the cinematography & choreography is top notch.

Conclusion: If you’re looking to unwind with an easy flowing, surreally entertaining plot with colorful, striking fight choreography, Office Royale fits the bill.

– Learn more about Office Royale and its memorable, street fighting office workers at Fantasia International Film Festival.

– Naoko and Ran’s journey might just be beginning… A sequel might not be out of the question. Maybe a whole series of films for Naoko’s Mei Nagano and Alice Hirose in the future.

Trivia: Actress Alice Hirose has a younger sister Suzu Hirose who’s also an actress & model. Both of their acting careers have been thriving in recent years.

– Be sure to read our Fantasia interviews with Dreams on Fire Director Philippe McKie and star Bambi Naka.

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