I’ll admit, I decided to go to see the sequel to the surprisingly entertaining Thermae Romae with some trepidation. Basically I’m not a fan of comedies in general, so that I enjoyed the first film made a few of my friends check to make sure I was still the same person. I’m seriously considering not telling them that I enjoyed the sequel almost as much.
Although, perhaps that was a no-brainer. There’s no surprises in this follow up — it’s more of the same, but that just happens to be Hiroshi Abe playing straight man to the sequence of ridiculous events that see his character, Roman bath architect Lucius transported from ancient Rome to modern Japan via a magical underwater conduit and Italian opera. The majority of the entertainment comes from Lucius’ amazed interpretation of the social and cultural customs of the “clan” he comes into contact with after falling through the bath. The majority of the narrative comes from the fact that Lucius’ success in the previous film has brought him to the attention of Emperor Hadrianus (Masachika Ichimura), whose pacifist policies have earned him some backstabbing Senate enemies. Hadrianus charges Lucius with building a bath in Baiae (which was indeed a famous thermal spring resort in the Bay of Naples area) but the evil senators are more interested in aggressive expansion than medicinal soaks.
During his time trips, Lucius does of course stumble into Mimi (Aya Ueto), the still-struggling manga artist/love-interest (if Lucius wasn’t quite so clueless), who conveniently keeps him out of trouble while he discovers a plethora of marvellous modern inventions like Whack-a-Mole and massage chairs and the admittedly impressive cooling systems of the famous Kusatsu hot springs. Lucius’ slave-powered versions back in his own time are appallingly hilarious, but they do the trick, repeatedly winning Lucius friends and influencing history.
They mostly do the trick with the audience too. Thermae Romae 2 is as full of gags as its predecessor, perhaps not nearly as kooky but it’s hard to be offended at the obvious cheap shots when it does it all with a fair amount of affection. Although I don’t know how Japanese people feel about the politically incorrect way in which Lucius refers to them and the way it’s played for laughs, but then again, Ancient Romans, right? Politically correct isn’t the first thing that comes to mind to describe them.
The dramatic developments are superficial at best, albeit occasionally engaging. Kazuki Kitamura as Ceonius gets a little more screen time this time and uses it reasonably well, whereas Ichimura is given comparatively less. And the pace does slow a little towards the end when the drama takes precedence over the gags, but it doesn’t last long enough to be more than a minor problem. The environmental CGI is, if not up to billion dollar Hollywood standards at least something the production team can be proud of.
All in all, the full package results in a moderately enjoyable film for the duration of its running time. It isn’t quite as entertaining as the first, but that’s ok. Considering sequels are rarely as good as their predecessors, the odds of this sequel being entertaining at all were arguably slim. If Thermae Romae 2 provides a few laughs at close to the same temperature, it’s at least worth dipping into.