How is it possible to go on living in a society which is often unkind and at times hostile? A collection of sensitive university students find themselves struggling to accept the world around them in Yurina Kaneko’s charmingly empathetic adaptation of the novel by Ao Omae, People who Talk to Plushies are Kind (ぬいぐるみとしゃべる人はやさしい), but discover a kind of solidarity in softness after joining a club where they don headphones and unburden themselves to cuddly toys.
As they point out, it’s good to talk. But talking to someone else about your worries can end up making them worried too and that’s the last thing any of the members of the Plushie Club want which is why they’ve decided to talk to plushies instead. Yet what’s worrying them isn’t just their worries, but a sense of their powerlessness and complicity in having behaved as if they believed the problems of others were nothing to do with them until they were shown otherwise. The hero, Nanamori (Kanata Hosoda) regrets that he “laughed things away with everyone else” rather than speaking up when he saw something that seemed wrong to him and should change while acknowledging that simply by existing as a man he may make someone feel afraid or uncomfortable without meaning to.
Nanamori is careful not to hurt others by his own actions, trying to turn down a confession of love from a classmate in high school as kindly as he can but perhaps failing in his awkwardness even as he straightforwardly tells her that he doesn’t understand the concept of romantic desire. He simply doesn’t know what it means to “like” someone, and feels that there must be something wrong with him that he can’t grasp this simple facet of human behaviour. On a trip home uniting with some boys from school, he is immediately put off by their stereotypically masculine banter in which they ask him about girls and crushes and mock him for being a virgin until he finally leaves and tells them not to laugh at him just because he is different.
Everyone at the Plushie Club is “different” in their own way, but has come to find a place to belong where they are simply allowed to be without needing to offer anything else. As another of the members, Nishimura (Mimori Wakasugi), puts it there’s something between kindness and indifference that is simply gentle, a quiet yet powerful quality of acceptance. When she casually revealed one day that she had a girlfriend, most of her friends were supportive but perhaps superficially. Her revelation had made them uncomfortable and regardless of how they felt about it, their perception of her had changed and she was no longer the person she had been to them before. They began to treat her differently, but at the Plushie Club there was no real difference and everyone carried on reacting to her the same way they always had.
The Plushie Club is a place where it’s permitted to be soft in a hard world, where the members can allow themselves to feel drained by the process of living and find relief from their sense of powerlessness in acknowledging that they have made a choice to continue being kind rather than become what the world wants them to be. In an effort to understand romantic desire, Nanamori begins dating a fellow member, Shiraki (Yuzumi Shintani), but discovers that she has chosen the opposite path laughing at women who complain about societal misogyny and insisting that it’s pointless to resist because nothing will ever change. She joined the Plushie Club because she was sick of being sexually harassed at other uni gatherings but later decides to deliberately join another club filled with sexist guys because the real world isn’t so nice and the only way to survive it is to become hard yourself.
Shiraki claims that she finds Nanamori’s “righteousness” “exhausting” and wishes she could free him and a similarly minded classmate, Mugito (Ren Komai), from their “tormenting kindness” which has in its way hurt her though unavoidably so even as she continues to be kind despite herself if rebelling by refusing to talk to plushies. Kaneko sometimes shifts to a blurry plushie vision with shimmering pastel-coloured edges and a kind of glitter snow effect that makes it seem as if the stuffed toys really are watching over their human friends as they silently, or not, agree to shoulder some of the burden of living. “They’re the ones talking to us,” Nanamori points out though in a way perhaps it’s more that the plushies reflect a part of themselves allowing them to exteriorise their internal dialogue and reach an accommodation with their fear and loneliness amid a world which consistently proves immovable and disappointing.
People Who Talk to Plushies Are Kind had its World Premiere as part of this year’s Osaka Asian Film Festival.
Original trailer (no subtitles)
Images: (C) 映画「ぬいぐるみとしゃべる人はやさしい」