NakaMats is an unlikely character made for the movies, with his deadpan English and impeccable comic timing providing nonstop laughs. About his Love Jet potion, he says: “I’ve tested more than 10,000 women. Of course, I’m not doing the sex. I’m checking meters.” At a conference, he leads a sing-along of a ditty he penned to memorialize the seven hours of snow shoveling he once did to get to a university class. Utterly nutty, but also a paean to the spirit of human invention. He believes he will live till 140; and the problem with this film is that it makes it easy to dismiss the man as a crank. Indeed, one might even wonder if the protagonist is playing up to the camera at times. What one might have liked to have seen was some explanation of the thought process behind his more successful inventions – instead, we get the process of how he comes to think of ideas.
It becomes apparent that NakaMats is a proud man who is even prouder of his inventions. Often when he is speaking to the camera it reads closer to a sales pitch than an interview. While NakaMats spends much of the film selling his creations as well as himself, director, Kaspar Astrup Schroder, laces the film with quiet and revealing moments. Whether it be napping in the car or visiting his mother’s grave, Schroder allows the audience to glimpse at the man behind the façade. The film focuses on the man more than his legacy. Not much time is spent dwelling on NakaMats’s position in the scientific community or how successful he is as an inventor. Schroder has presented a profile of a man with eccentricities and flaws but a brilliant mind as well.
He believes that too much oxygen is bad for the brain and that 0.5 seconds prior to death the brain is functioning at its highest level. To attempt to achieve this Nakamats swims underwater whilst holding, another of his inventions, a waterproof notepad and pencil to collect his ideas as soon as they come to him. By focusing on the quirkiness of the doctor, the film fails to convey his genius – and I was even tempted, at times, to wonder if the whole film was not a kind of low-key spoof. Assuming it isn’t, there’s some interest here; but less than if it had taken its subject more seriously. Whether he really is a genius or just a very blessed madman, he is certainly the eccentric subject of an entertaining documentary. Throughout the films 57 minutes we see what daily life is like for this rather charismatic, but certainly very odd scientist.
His delusions of grandeur are perhaps what has made him his fortunes, but those delusions have created a man who is so disconnected from reality that you start to feel sorry for him – especially during the scene where his family give him a birthday present, after which he demands the director shoot another take because the first one wasn’t to his liking. We watch as he battles with the hotel to have the party room renamed for himself, attempt to have a functional relationship with his daughter , and rebuff those who want to pay him less than he believes his patents are worth. But when the 81 years old standing in front of you says that he teaches at the University of Tokyo, preaches a 3-step program of creativity with an accompanying 5-tier pagoda of success, you really wonder who’s trying to convince who. All in all, it is an interesting film, but just short of anything great.