Daigo Matsui directed Wonderful World End (MIFF 2015) and Our Huff and Puff Journey (MIFF 2016), both films I enjoyed for their mix of kawaii cuteness with social gravitas. Japanese Girls Must Die treads a similar path but feels more laboured and less whimsical in its telling.
The story flicks back and forth between two young women, Aina (Mitsuki Takahata) and Haruko (Yû Aoi), and two slightly different timelines. When we first see Aina, Haruko is missing, her face and name apparent on police noticeboards. Aina is hyperactively positive and launches herself with glee and abandon into a relationship with handsome Yukio (Taiga). Yukio and a friend get their kicks graffitiing at night using stencils they have created from found images, including one of Haruko’s missing person poster.
Haruko works at a sales firm where the women get paid little and do the bulk of the work while the men smoke, drink and leer. She begins a tentative relationship with a school friend but seems to be drifting through her life. Oddly, and this is where the whimsy and the social message appears, there is also a gang of high school girls roaming the streets at night beating up men.
The film certainly highlights the marginalisation and mistreatment of young women in Japan, from the trivialisation of Aina by Yukio to the vile talk of Haruko’s colleagues. The girl gang, although lawless and violent, represents a strength for women when they pull together and stand up against inequity and violence. They are unafraid and exultant in their freedom. The girl gang feels like a metaphor, a motif to counter the critical moment that both Aina and Haruko reach, where they must decide their own futures.
There are comedic elements to the film and many of the men have an anime style of exaggerated expression and gesture. There are equal amounts of slow and quiet sorrow though, making for an unsettling mix. I found my attention drifting after a while but stayed with the story as it resolved with various twists and turns.
Have you seen this film? Let me know what you thought in the comments below.