Wednesday, April 29, 2015

SFIFF ’15: Wonderful World End

Evidently, you can make a career out of being cute and popular in Japan, but it isn’t easy. Would-be model-actress Shiori Hayano does not have that many followers for her social networking outreach, but she has one undeniable super-fan. Their relationship will be hard to classify, but all kinds of intense (as befits its internet origins) in Daigo Matsui’s Wonderful World End, which screens during the 2015 San Francisco International Film Festival.

Hundreds of people watch Hayano put on make-up and discuss her Gothic Lolita wardrobe, but that mostly just earns her demoralizing work handing out fliers and the odd appearance on dodgy late night talk shows. However, thirteen year old Ayumi Kinoshita thinks she is the living end. Eventually, the shy girl runs away from home, hoping to be near her idol. Hayano’s hipster boyfriend Kohei Kawajima obliges, letting Kinoshita crash at their pad. Initially, Hayano is put off by his presumption, but she soon enjoys the constant adulation. As she tires of Kawajima’s pretensions, Hayano starts to develop a yuri-ish attraction to her younger fan, but it will be rudely interrupted when Kinoshita’s mother tracks her down.

At various junctures Wonderful threatens to turn dark and heavy, but for a film about runaways, it maintains an unusually upbeat mood. In fact, crazy surreal third act developments turn it into a legitimate genre picture, but what genre is anyone’s guess. Somehow, Ai Hashimoto manages to anchor the hyper-real proceedings, neatly balancing Hayano’s pronounced vanity with affecting sensitivity. She is relentlessly endearing, especially as she starts to develop offline human connections. Jun Aonami also looks frighteningly young and vulnerable as Kawajima, while Marie Machida has some strange but compelling moments as her mother.

Essentially, Wonderful is a two-hander with Hashimoto assuming the senior partner role. However, veteran thesp Go Riju steals a few scenes as Hayano’s sleazy agent. He almost makes exploitation look quirky and charming—almost. Since her label helped underwrite the production, Japanese alt-rocker Seiko Oomori also gets her feature spots in performances that were also produced as music videos. She is a charismatic live performer who nicely fits the film’s milieu, so her musical interludes do not feel so very out of place.

The vibe of Wonderful veers all over the place, but its energy is consistently impressive. In many ways, it suits the nature of contemporary uber-connected youth culture. Odd but indisputably grabby, Wonderful World End is recommended for fans of jpop and yuri manga when it screens tomorrow (4/30), Friday (5/1), and Saturday (5/2), as part of the 58th San Francisco International Film Festival.