By Aaron Rourke (Melbourne, Australia)
Though predictable to a fault, this mild comedy/drama makes for enjoyable viewing, bolstered by a strong ensemble who all deliver solid performances. The story centres on Tamako Tomita (Yui Aragaki), who at a young age was a gifted table tennis prodigy, but fell out-of-love with the sport due to the strict, overbearing training by her mother Hanako (Yoko Maki). Tamako ended up leaving the small town the first chance she got to work at a company in Tokyo, and begins a relationship with fellow employee Akihiko Ejima (Koji Seto), who happens to be a member of the department’s table tennis team. When she is dumped by Akihiko for fellow club member Airi (Mei Nagano), Tamako is devastated, and decides to move back to her hometown.
Once back, Tamako quickly bumps into old classmate Yayoi (Ryoko Hirosue), who is overjoyed to see her long absent childhood friend again, and awkwardly reconnects with her reserved father Tatsuro (Fumiyo Kohinata). Yayoi suggests that Tamako take over the local table tennis club that her late mother used to run, but her ill-feelings towards the sport still remain, but curious, visits the club, which has fallen on hard times. It is here she meets a gallery of would-be players, including married couple Motonobu and Mika Ochiai (Kenichi Endo and Misako Tanaka), shy teenager Yuma (Hayato Sano), but most notably, Hisashi Hagiwara (Eita), a laid-back member who is getting over the recent separation from his wife and daughter.
Convinced by this ragtag bunch to take over the running of the club, Tamako decides that the best way to attract new members is by entering a mixed doubles tournament, so she is soon whipping these amateurs into shape, who are all participating for their own personal reasons. During all this training, a bond starts to develop between Tamako and Hisashi, despite their constant bickering, and when the tournament finally arrives, we know who Tamako will have to confront as an opponent. There is never any doubt in where the story is headed, but director Junichi Ishikawa and writer Ryota Kosawa (the Detective in the Bar films), who previously teamed up on the fun if frustratingly uneven April Fools (2015), compensate the lack of originality with an easy-going atmosphere and a collection of interesting characters, who are then brought to life by an exceptionally talented cast.
7Aragaki (The Wings of the Kirin, Twilight: Saya in Sasara) makes her dour character sympathetic and likeable, while Eita (Tada’s Do-It-All House, The Magnificent Nine) is the perfect foil as Hisashi, and there is convincing chemistry between the two. Hirosue (Departures, Villon’s Wife, Flowers) is absolutely delightful as Yayoi, making the most of her atypically light-hearted role, and Yu Aoi (Hana & Alice, Hula Girls, Birds Without Names) almost steals the film as Yo, the cantankerous waitress who works at the group’s local eatery. Everyone though plays their part well.
Mixed Doubles is the kind of film that could be easily overlooked due to its overly familiar material, but if given the opportunity, audiences should find themselves entertained by this amiable bunch of characters, nicely realised by a cast who are all in fine form.