EXPECTATIONS: Another pleasantly entertaining film from Keisuke Yoshida.
REVIEW: To be perfectly honest, I actually didn’t want to review Hime-anole. Not because it’s bad, as it is far from it. I didn’t want to review Hime-anole because I didn’t want to spoil any of its major events. Because revealing said plot points can rob such films of their power. Having said that, this film is such a surprise that it could end up being on of my 2016 top 10 list.
Keisuke Yoshida has been a director that has, for the most part, made films that can be seen as pleasant as well as quite powerful. Films like the slice-of-life drama Cafe Isobe (2008), his tragic-comedy My Little Sweet Pea (2013), and even the manga adaptation Silver Spoon (2010) are entertaining pieces, although some are quite forgettable. His first feature, however, was a pinku film called Raw Summer (2005) with former AV star Sora Aoi. Despite its exploitation trappings, the film ended up transcending its origins with substantial character explorations within its voyeuristic plot. Having recalled the latter, it did make me wonder if Yoshida would ever go back to those types of films that delved into darker subject matter. Now, we have Hime-anole, a live-action adaptation of a manga by Minoru Furuya, whose Himizu (2001-2002) was filmed by Sion Sono in 2011.
The film starts off uneventfully with the barely present Okada (Gaku Hamada) an assistant cleaner making a mistake during his work task and being criticized by his superior. This is when the straightforward Ando (Tsuyoshi Muro), his work colleague backs him up and the two become better acquainted. Ando then tells Okada about his strong love for Yuka (Aimi Satsukawa), a waitress at a coffee shop, despite the fact that he has never said a word to her. Because of Ando supporting him earlier, Okada feels obligated to help Ando get the girl of his dreams. But things get a little slippery when they find that a stranger is apparently stalking Yuka, so the two help Yuka out to avoid the stalker whilst Ando having ulterior motives to woo and pursue Yuka. But as feelings develop into something more intimate and motivations become a little clearer, the characters soon end up into something a little more than they bargained for…
The directing by Keisuke Yoshida is incredibly assured, considering his past films, which never felt that they had a tight rein on its film-making. Scenes in the first act all have a sense of warmth that makes its humour and characters stand out, even with Go Morita in the background. When the story gradually enters the second act, the film ends up being more substantial as the characters are gradually explored, like in a scene where a friend of Yuka’s rudely and insistently judges Okada and Ando as a pair of losers. But as the second act starts, the genre Hime-anole adheres to gets turn on its head and gets beaten to a bloody pulp. Characters start to get more depraved with their emotions; motivations become more crystal clear and this is when Go Morita steals the film.
The acting from the cast is top-notch. Gaku Hamada can play his hang-dog sympathy act in his sleep and it’d still entertain me. In this film, he does play a character with a little bit more inner conflict and he portrays that well, particularly when the film enters its second act. Tsuyoshi Muro is surprisingly sympathetic, despite the character’s actions towards achieving his version of true love. His stern honesty and chemistry with Hamada make him endearingly likable. Aimi Satsukawa does the cute and quiet act with ease that it makes it easy for the audience to understand why Ando would fall for her. As for Go Morita as the stalker, this is his film, that’s all I will say about him. The supporting cast are all fine and give their roles the much-needed sympathy to stand out.
The production values of the film are great, like the musical score and the editing. There’s a scene that starts the second act that is fantastically edited that it makes the audience more anticipated of what’s to come. The cinematography is also interesting to see, as the shots of the film starts off as static until they gradually become more hand-held when the depravity sets in. The film is also refreshingly free of CGI, which is becoming a major hindrance in cinematic storytelling. How can you get into the story if you notice something extremely fake? Hime-anole has very little of that, and it is immersive in its intent from the get-go.
To say any more about the film will be a discredit to it so I’ll just say that Hime-anole was one of the biggest surprises for me in 2016 and I highly recommend this film to those who are adventurous in the unexpected. With fantastic performances, the subtly unhinged direction from Keisuke Yoshida and a refreshing lack of adherence towards mainstream storytelling, Hime-anole is a cult classic in the making.
P.S – Did I note that the film was rated R-15 in Japan? I probably should’ve mentioned it earlier.
Fantastic performances (especially from Go Morita)
Assured direction and unhinged storytelling chops from Keisuke Yoshida
Surprising twists in the story
Some moments which could take the audience out of the film
Those expect anything mainstream will be concerned and even shocked
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