Friday, July 10, 2015

Japan Cuts ’15: Haruko’s Paranormal Laboratory

Newton Minow would be appalled by Haruko. Her only meaningful relationship is with her television. Granted, he is newly sentient, but the symbolism is still pretty bad. As a result, they will also face some rather atypical problems when they try to make their romance work in Lisa Takeba’s Haruko’s Paranormal Laboratory (trailer here), which screens as a selection of this year’s Japan Cuts, the Festival of New Japanese Film in NewYork.

Haruko was always a UFO-chasing fan-girl outsider, but don’t judge her harshly. Her whole family is kind of nuts. As she sits about her flat, the “Paranormal Laboratory,” cursing at the banalities on her early 1960s vintage television, a secret counter clicks towards 10,000. At that point, Terebi (TV) springs to life like Frosty the Snowman—or rather a half-naked man with a television encasing his head. Pretty soon, they’re fooling around, because what’s the point of being bashful in a situation like this?

Needless to say, the outside world is not sure what to make of their relationship, but they find it remarkably easy to accept Terebi as a human TV. As it happens, this sort of thing has been happening not infrequently with mid-sized appliances.

The first half of the relatively short (76 minutes) Laboratory is pleasantly goofy and not particularly stressed about stuff like narrative. However, the film’s energy level largely sputters out once it decides it needs more structure. Eventually, Takeba sort of riffs on the Splash! story and even recycles the shopworn cliché of the carnival side show proprietor looking to control Terebi.

It is probably worth seeing Laboratory just to be assured you really can make a film about a TV who turned into a dude. This is strange to suggest, but it would have worked better if it had meandered more. Still, Moeka Nozaki is quite charming as Haruko (despite seeming too cute to be a shy loner). The usually shirtless Aoi Nakamura is a good sport as Terebi, while Fumiyo Kohinata (a veteran of the 20th Century Boys, Outrage, and Solomon’s Perjury franchises) also helps humanize the quirky odd ballotry as Haruko’s father.

Laboratory has its share of gross-out humor, but it is mostly a gentle and well-meaning send-up of Japanese fan culture. It is a small film in every way, but it is determined to be liked. Recommended for those who like their comedy both eccentric and sentimental, Haruko’s Paranormal Laboratory screens this Sunday (7/12) at the Japan Society, as part of the 2015 Japan Cuts.