JFF Plus Online Festival Day 3 – Internet Hysteria and Guardian Spirits

Stolen Identity [Sumaho o otoshita dake na no ni] (2018) begins as if it’s a gentle romantic comedy. Tomita (Tanaka Kei) texts his girlfriend Asami (Kitagawa Keiko) about their planned evening while on his way to work. Stuck in heavy traffic and running late for an important meeting, he abandons his taxi for the train, but all trains have been cancelled due to an accident. He can’t call his boss because he dropped his phone in the taxi and has to run the rest of the way to work. His girlfriend, wondering why he hasn’t been responding to her texts, speaks to the person who has the phone and arranges to collect it from a cafe. The phone is collected, the date goes ahead and everything seems fine. Then we jump back in time to discover that the person who found the phone is a giggling, jittery wig-wearing maniac with a comprehensive phone hacking setup, before cutting to a team of police as they unearth two women’s bodies buried in the woods, both with long dark hair and a shaved spot.

Tomita and Asami both become prey to various forms of cyber-attack while the police attempt to find the serial killer – who is, of course, the person carrying out the cyber-attacks and has chosen Asami as his next target. A number of potential culprits are set up, each of whom uses (or is framed for using) typical male forms of harassing women, but it’s not difficult to identify the real culprit if you have any familiarity with basic identity-scamming methods. For those who don’t, the new junior police officer (Tanaka Kei) who has transferred across from the computer crime division is on hand to explain the basics to his experienced homicide-investigation partner (Harada Taizô) and to come up with random speculations about the killer which all happen to be correct and have inexplicably never occurred to a team who nod in an impressed manner when they should have been able to reach the same conclusions themselves.

If you’re beginning to suspect a certain level of impatience and frustration with this film, you’re absolutely right. Nakata Hideo is a talented director who made his breakthrough with the internationally successful Ring [Ringu] (1998), but there’s little sign here of the brilliance displayed elsewhere in his career. The screenplay was adapted by Oishi Tetsuya (Death Note [Desu nôto]) from a novel by Shiga Akira published the year before. Presumably a lot of the movie’s problems – such as a ridiculously implausible piece of backstory for one of the leads involving a different sort of stolen identity – stem from the novel, but that still leaves unanswered the question of why the people involved would be interested in adapting it in the first place – let alone commissioning a sequel! The movie’s worst sin is the portrayal of the sinister villain, who is such a ridiculous conglomeration of outdated cliches about mad killers that it would have looked bad twenty years ago, let alone now. Although the other performances are fine, there’s little here that’s worth watching.

Tokyo Marble Chocolate [Tōkyō Māburu Chokorēto] (2007) tells the story of two self-sabotaging romantic disaster areas. Yudai (Sakurai Takahiro) is a helpful and polite boy with massive anxiety issues – one relationship ended when his girlfriend’s dog barked at him, another ended because she lived at the top of a building and he passed out as he got out of the elevator. Most crucially, however, he’s never been able to bring himself to say “I love you”. Chizuru (Mizuki Nana) is a clumsy girl who has inadvertently frightened off several boyfriends and has internalised a drunken friend’s statement that it’s impossible for anybody to truly love her.

Yudai has brought a present for Chizuru and is working up the courage to use the L word. Chizuru has also brought a present, intending to have one last good day out before breaking up with him – although, since her present is later revealed to include a statement of her love for him, she apparently hasn’t considered the mixed message that sends. Yudai’s present was supposed to be a rabbit, but he gets a call from the pet store telling him that a mini-donkey broke out and replaced the rabbit in the box. When he returns to the table, the box is open and Chizuru is unexpectedly missing.

Tokyo Marble Chocolate is an OAV split into two half-hour episodes. The first episode presents the events of two consecutive days from Yudai’s perspective while the second covers the same period from Chizuru’s side. Despite complications along the way – including an unexpected visit from one of Yudai’s exes and an overbearing playboy who has found Chizuru’s phone – the mini-donkey’s disastrous determination to follow its own whims reveals it to be a hopelessly romantic creature determined to bring the two of them together.

This is Shiotani Naoyoshi’s first attempt at directing an original animation after working as a storyboard artist on the vampire anime series BLOOD+ (2006) – a series which has very little in common with this story, beyond brief fantasy sequences which externalise the characters’ respective fears as mildly horrific creatures. Apart from that, the style of the animation is very much mundane with a desaturated, pastel-like colour palette. The mini-donkey is rendered in a notably different style from the humans and doesn’t really fit with the rest of the world – which may be part of the point, although it didn’t work very well for me. Ozaki Masaya has scripted a sweet story, but the characters are sometimes so hopeless that they risk turning off the audience. And I still have no idea what the title signifies, as there’s no sign of either marble or chocolate in the entire 60 minutes. Unless… it now occurs to me that maybe Chizuru’s gift to Yudai was intended to be marble chocolate? Hmm. They definitely could have made that clearer.

Drawer Hobs [Tansuwarashi] (2011) introduces us to Noeru (Noto Mamiko), who works in a call centre and lives in alone in a low-cost apartment. After her mother decides it’s time for her to inherit the family chest of drawers, she notices two new things: meals are being prepared and household chores completed without her involvement; and small children keep popping up around the house. These are the drawer hobs of the title, six household spirits who live in the chest of drawers (one per drawer) and serve the single female descendants of the family line. Initially freaked out and in denial, she begins to accept and then actively enjoy their company, and finally to carry out their tasks herself – at which point they have done their duty and disappear to await future generations. It’s a simple 25-minute story which offers an obvious metaphor for learning generational life skills without being overly didactic.

This one’s another directorial first. Kise Kazuchika who was an animator on the original Ghost in the Shell [Kôkaku Kidôtai] (1995). He went on to the role of chief director on the Ghost in the Shell: Arise [Kōkaku Kidōtai Araizu] OAV series before directing the concluding chapter, Ghost in the Shell: The New Movie [Kôkaku Kidôtai Shin Gekijôban] (2015) – all of which, of course, are very different from this short film. The backgrounds are beautifully textured with watercolours, providing a contrast to the solid colours on the foreground characters. The character expressions are simply conveyed through a minimal use of lines and circles which still provides scope for a wide range of emotions. It’s more subtle and more rewarding than Tokyo Marble Chocolate.

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