'Japanese Girls Never Die': Tokyo Review

By Ward, Sarah | Screen International, November 9, 2016 | Go to article overview

'Japanese Girls Never Die': Tokyo Review


Ward, Sarah, Screen International


Dir. Daigo Matsui. Japan, 2016, 100 mins.

The latest film from actor-turned-director Daigo Matsui (Wonderful World End) has two titles, and each proves telling. The English-language moniker Japanese Girls Never Die immediately inspires the question: well, what do they do? Of course, it's a loaded query, answered here in slices of female lives constrained by societal expectations - and also partially by the movie's more straightforward, literally translated title, Haruko Azumi Is Missing.

Haruko's (Yû Aoi) disappearance is just one of three strands in screenwriter Misaki Setoyama's adaptation of Mariko Yamauchi's 2013 novel. It provides an intriguing hook, using a familiar scenario as an accessible entryway into the film's scathing portrait of engrained misogyny in modern-day Japan.

It should help broaden the movie's viewership following its December release at home, particularly with international festivals. That Japanese Girls Never Die also features a gang of uniform-wearing teens running around Tokyo wreaking havoc on the men who dare to objectify and sexualise them should also help it win wider attention.

Emblazoned on a missing poster, Haruko's face is one of the first things audiences see. Brought to life with soulful precision by Aoi, a Japanese Academy Award winner for 2006's Hura gâru, her story seems straightforward for an unmarried 28-year-old, other than the knowledge that she is about to vanish.

She's unhappy at work, at home, and with her unrequited yearning for her childhood pal turned neighbour (Huey Ishizaki). Specifically, Haruko's days are filled with callous male bosses making inappropriate comments about the age, appearance and relationship status of their female employees, all while trying to hire a new pretty young thing. By night, she navigates the stresses of living with her family, with her grandmother's memory fading and her mother none-too-happy about it.

Matsui presents every incursion into Haruko's life in a matter-of-fact way that emphasises both the normality and the commonality of her situation; the treatment that her older colleague receives for being unmarried at the age of 37 further stresses that Haruko could be any number of Tokyo's many inhabitants. …

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