by Graham Kelly, Regional ECD, Bates CHI & Partners Manila

Having judged at Cannes and worked in Japan, I guess (adobo Editor-in-Chief) Angel (Guerrero) thought I’d be at least partly qualified to review Judge!; a Japanese comedy about a hapless copywriter (Kiichiro Ohta) who ends up judging at an international award show.

We get plenty of insightful humor even before getting to the judging scenes. The opening is hilarious. The agency shoots a noodle commercial starring a fox. The client’s feedback: “Can you make the fox a bit like a cat? … I like cats.” In desperation Ohta ends up dubbing the fox’s voice with cat noises. The results are predictably cringe-worthy.

Next Ohta is tricked by his deceitful ECD into judging on his behalf. Why is his boss giving up the chance of being on the jury? Because a key client has entered a profoundly bad TVC to the award show: one created by the CEO’s son. The agency has been told to do whatever it takes to ensure it wins the Grand Prix…or else.

The ECD wants Ohta to take the heat when the inevitable happens, and the spot doesn’t even make it past the first round. The preparation scene, where Ohta is briefed by an agency veteran to behave like a stereotypical Japanese, mercilessly skewers outsiders’ views of the country (Ohta is told to bring a collection of manga toys and always wear anime t-shirts during judging).

Things move up a gear once judging begins at “The Santa Monica International Awards;” an allusion to Cannes so thinly veiled, it’s transparent. As are the agency names: Hakuhodo is “Hakufodo,” Denstu is “Gentsu.” Just before judging starts, Ohta is lobbied by fellow jurors to vote for his work, and they’ll vote for Ohta’s in return. While this point is made in a heavy-handed way, it’s still close to the mark: the same thing happened to me (of course, I didn’t play ball).

The bitchiness, politicking, oversized egos…all the judging scenes are spot on, albeit exaggerated for comic effect. In fact, the accuracy is impressive. Hardly surprising given that the director, Akira Nagai, is a former award-winner himself. I won’t give the ending away you’ll have to watch it for yourself but it’s safe to say you’ll be glad you did.

P.S. for a much darker take on Adland, check out the black comedy TV series Happyish starring Steve Coogan. Well worth watching.