Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Fantasia ’15: Nowhere Girl

This is no David & Lisa story of high school understanding and healing. Ai is definitely a disturbed student, but her art teacher seems to be part of her problem, rather than a solution. Granted, the school nurse is sympathetic, but there is definitely some weird hidden dynamic at work in Mamoru Oshii’s Nowhere Girl (trailer here), which screens today during the 2015 Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal, following its recent NYAFF North American premiere.

Ai was once the prized pupil of a boarding school for the arts, whose distinguished presence helped drive enrollment. However, something happened causing Ai to severely draw inward. Now she sleepwalks through the school like an entitled zombie, facing no consequences for her irresponsibility. Her classmates resent her privileged status, but they find she is tougher to bully than she looks. On the other hand, the art teacher’s efforts to snap her out of it, or just punish her, ought to be grounds for his dismissal. Regardless, there are dramatic reasons for her compulsive behavior that will be revealed during the third act.

Not to be spoilery, but when Ai wrestles with the Macguffin, or whatever, it is pretty spectacular. Frankly, the big twist is not entirely unprecedented, but Oshii still pulls it off rather adroitly. In fact, Nowhere is the sort of film worth revisiting to catch all the sign posts we might have missed the first time around.

Again, it is almost spoilery to note how forceful and physical Nana Seino is during Ai’s action sequences, but her chops deserve props. It often seems like a very “closed-off” sort of performance, but she conveys a clear sense that something tumultuous is going on beneath the surface. Lily (as she is simply billed) is also terrific as the nurse.

You might think you have seen a lot of twisted Japanese school girl films, but Nowhere is something else entirely (yet still a little warped). Anime legend Oshii (director of the original Ghost in the Shell) basically directs in two speeds, eerily dreamlike or blazingly fast, but they are equally effective. The use of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23 in A Minor is also quite haunting, while art director Michitoshi Kurokawa’s sets provide the real X-factor edge. Cool and chilling, Nowhere Girl is recommended for fans of mind-benders and school girl genre films when it screens tonight (7/21), at this year’s Fantasia.