Go Find A Psychic! (Magare! Supûn)

Japan (2009) Dir. Katsuyuki Motohiro

Belief is a powerful thing, for better or for worse. Some find comfort in spiritual guidance; others succumb to pernicious ideals with devastating consequences. Whatever it is, the strength of our beliefs keep us going even we don’t find the resolve we hoped for.

In a loose manner, Katusyuki Motohiro explores this notion, albeit via an unconventional narrative. Yone Sakurai (Masami Nagasawa), a lifelong believer in the supernatural, is convinced she can bend a spoon with her mind. She works as a researcher for the TV show Asunaro Psychic which showcases self-professed psychics to decide if they are legit or not.

A few days before Christmas the show’s producer (Masahiro Komoto) gives Yone a huge bag of letters and tells her find any genuine psychics. Meanwhile in a small town, the Café Telekinesis holds its annual Christmas Eve party for genuine psychics who keep their abilities secret. Unluckily for them, Yone’s last stop before returning to Tokyo is to meet Kanda (Hideto Iwai) for an interview at the Café.

So far, this doesn’t appear to uphold any subscription to the power of belief; if anything, by exposing fraudulent psychics on television it appears to be heading in the opposite direction. In that respect, you have to wait until the final act before the message is made clear, but until then Motohiro offers plenty of quirky distractions whose congruence eventually reveals itself.

A prologue shows us Yone as a young girl mesmerised by lights in the sky, tales of big foot and mind-controlled antics, which has remained within her even though her TV show is concerned with debunking psychic powers. A new initiative to present real physics on the show sees an overworked Yone trek across the country with little luck, but she keeps going because she believes in it.

She meets a man called Mr. Indestructible (Susumu Terajima) who claims he is immune to a poisonous spider bite; you can guess how that turns out. As it happens, Café Telekinesis is in the same town and Yone’s last stop before being ordered back to Tokyo. If only Yone can get the right directions….

The motley crew that make-up the publicity shy psychics include café owner Saotome (Kotaro Shiga) who can foresee the future; Kawaoka (Suwa Masashi), whose power is telekinesis; Shiina (Osamu Tsuji) the mind reader; Kakei (Haruki Nakagawa), the man with X-ray vision, Ide (Junya Kawashima) manipulates electricity and Koyama (Hiroki Miyake) can freeze time.  

Kanda’s gift is the “Thin Man” which isn’t really an ability at all – he is just thin enough to squeeze through certain gaps. He chose the café as the meeting place as he though the name was apt, unaware that the others are genuine psychics. Yone wearily listens to Kanda’s half-baked story then goes to leave, but Kakei thinks he spots the poisonous spider in Yone’s jacket pocket.

In the funniest segment of the whole film, the psychics try to figure out how to save Yone from being bitten by using their powers yet without exposing themselves in the process. It’s a silly, contrived and simple set up but Motohito gets plenty of mileage out of it, largely through the colourful personalities of the psychics and in spite of the singular location.

Whenever one of them tries something, the others have to cover for him as to not reveal his abilities, recalling the classic farcical comedies of yore whilst Yone looks on in trusting bewilderment. A few recurring gags are born out of this, most notably Yone’s habit of leaving the lens cap on her video camera, while Kanda’s attempts to convince Yone with his alleged ability provides some nice deadpan background humour.

Screenwriter Makoto Ueda’s script is demonstrably uneven – it doesn’t really pick up until the halfway mark – but the characters are well fleshed out; the psychics in particular are not just defined by their individual abilities, but by their appearances and attitudes toward using them. Kakei and Shiina both dress smartly and are cautious about using their powers whilst Koyama and Kawaoka are scruff bags who show little restraint.

Played mostly by veterans and journeymen, the actors are all joyously aware of what their characters are about and imbue their personalities into their respective abilities. They make for a fun ensemble, complimented by the awkward earnestness of Kanda and his deluded non-existent powers, serving as a great foil and straight man.

Yone for the most part is something of a cipher, experiencing the supernatural first hand on behalf of the audience, registering the same wonderment and disappointment we would. Yet, as the downtrodden employee and hopelessly romantic dreamer, she is a sympathetic figure in search of validation both professionally and personally, a position we’ve all been in.

Masami Nagasawa is perfect in this role, her sweet, wide-eyed facial expressions and dimply smile bring light to her every scene, even if it is a façade to hide her weariness with the world. While not an overtly comic role, Nagasawa’s flair for it is evident, subtly understating the downbeat moment as not to entirely dampen the mood.

As fun and well meaning as this film is, it tends to drag a little and some moments are ripe for extrusion. The Mr. Indestructible scene is a prime example, since the TV show segment at the beginning already highlights the wannabes, whilst the subsequent spider scare later on could have been applied another way.

The final act is wilfully saccharine, bludgeoning the audience with its central message already delineated less blatantly moments earlier, much like the subtle denouement that follows which does the job just as well, if not better, ending on a wry but warmly ironic fade out.

Boasting a cheerfully quixotic premise and positive message, Go Find A Psychic! takes a while to find its feet but is entertaining enough to compensate for this. A tighter script and less cheesy ending would have improved it otherwise, this is a fun afternoon waster.

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