To Be Killed by a High School Girl (女子高生に殺されたい, Hideo Jojo, 2022)

Are there some desires so taboo that they can never be spoken of even if they cause no harm to others? Adapted from the manga by Usamaru Furuya, Hideo Jojo’s To Be Killed by a High School Girl (女子高生に殺されたい, Joshikosei ni Korosaretai) is indeed about a man fixated with the idea of being strangled by a teenage girl but one who also embodies the inspirational teacher stereotype planning to leave behind him a kind of manifesto instructing his pupils to live their lives to the full while remaining true to their authentic selves in the knowledge that their lives will be defined by the manner of their deaths. 

Subverting a trope from shojo manga, Higashiyama (Kei Tanaka) is the hot new teacher at school proving an instant hit with most of the girls in his class but he’s come with an ulterior motive in that his ultimate fetish is being murdered by a high school girl. Even so, he claims to feel no attraction to his teenage pupils and is sickened by teachers who abuse their position later revealing he orchestrated his predecessor’s downfall by accelerating a complaint that had already been registered against him for inappropriate contact with students. His fetish lies solely in being overpowered by someone he would ordinarily perceive as being weaker than himself after fighting for his life with all his strength. 

Then again, as Satsuki (Yuko Oshima), a councillor brought into the school following a traumatic incident who also happens to be Higashiyama’s uni ex, points out his techniques for manipulating the girls are little different than those of a predatory sex offender grooming their prey. He figures out their weaknesses and goes out of his way to make each of them feel special while simultaneously provoking a sense of jealousy so he can bend them to his will in enacting a plan that will eventually lead to his murder in the middle of the school cultural festival. On the other hand, he crafts his plan in such a way as to protect his killer, his fetish won’t be fulfilled unless it’s a perfect crime, and because of the nature of the girl he’s selected he’s confident she won’t even remember having killed him and therefore will remain largely unaffected. 

Higashiyama doesn’t give much an explanation for his fetish save an allusion to having been born with the cord around his neck, a sensation he claims to remember only later admitting that he “recovered” a memory of it after his mother described the event to him. He later says something similar to Satsuki after suffering with amnesia, claiming to remember how he ended up in the hospital but then confessing that Satsuki had explained it to him on a previous occasion. He claims that he’s not suicidal but continues to fixate on death as force which gives life meaning, paradoxically insisting on living with all his might while otherwise drawn towards mortal extremity and fearing a “bad” ending such as being pushed off a cliff or poisoned with carbon monoxide neither of which would satisfy his fetish in their distinct lack of romance.  

Even so as another pupil suggests is he just a regular “pervert” after all despite his rather high minded-view of his proclivities? Despite all his manipulations, the various girls which he targets all seem to begin making progress in their lives, an angry judo enthusiast kicking back against a boy who’d long been bullying her, a shy theatre kid turning popular girl, and a young woman beginning to overcome her trauma thanks to the power of unconditional friendship. His replacement, a middle-aged man with a bad wig, is completely ignored by his pupils hinting perhaps that Higashiyama’s teaching practice was effective no matter now uncomfortable if not quite inappropriate some of his conduct may have turned out to be. After all he argues, he’s not a “pervert” just someone who wanted to be murdered by a teenage girl insisting that his fetish is essentially harmless because he has no sexual interest in the girl herself yet as we later see it does indeed involve inflicting violence on her. 

Playing with a series of B-movie tropes aside from Higashiyama’s taboo fetish from multiple personality disorder to premonition, traumatic memory, and fatalistic obsession, Jojo’s approach is arch in the extreme fully embracing the outlandishness of the material while both lending the troubled Higashiyama a degree of sympathy and hinting at the buried darkness beneath his handsome facade even as that darkness is essentially directed within, his death dictated by the circumstances of his birth as he “remembers” them. Occasionally shifting into the realms of giallo with creepy spiders and ominous red lighting, To Be Killed by a High School Girl never takes itself too seriously but revels in the inherent absurdity of its premise while remaining strangely respectful not only of the hero’s unique dilemma but of the ordinary problems among the otherwise besotted teens. 


To Be Killed by a High School Girl screened as part of Osaka Asian Film Festival 2022

Original trailer (no subtitles)

One Summer Story (子供はわかってあげない, Shuichi Okita, 2020)

“One man’s not enough to make a difference, you learn something and pass it on” the heroine of Shuichi Okita’s One Summer Story (子供はわかってあげない, Kodomo wa Wakatte Agenai) is told, learning about life from her philosophical, slightly defeated birth father. Adapted from the manga by Retto Tajima, Okita’s teen drama is in many ways a typical “summer story” in which a high schooler goes on a quietly life changing journey during one of the last summer breaks of their adolescent lives, but it’s also as much of his work is an empathetic plea for a kinder world built on mutual understanding and acceptance. 

Okita signals as much with his animated opening, taken from the heroine’s favourite show, Koteko, in which a magical girl plasterer helps “Count Cement” repair his relationships with his estranged children, Mortar and Concrete, from whom he had withdrawn in shame realising that without water he is nothing while his kids could still make something of themselves through becoming bridges and houses. Koteko is something of a touchstone for Minami (Moka Kamishiraishi), a regular high school girl and member of the swimming team moved to tears by the opening song which preaches that walls aren’t something to be overcome but a canvas on which you can plaster your dreams. At the pool one day, she spots a boy on the roof painting a picture she quickly recognises as Koteko, rushing up there to befriend him as a fellow fan. In addition to being a Koteko-lover, Moji (Kanata Hosoda) is the son of a prominent calligraphy family and it’s at his house that she finds a vital clue, a talisman which matches the one she got from her birth father for her last birthday. 

Immediately following the end of the opening anime sequence, Okita shows us a happy family scene in which Minami’s stepdad (Kanji Furutachi) hands her tissues while she cries to the ending theme, joining in with the dance while her mum (Yuki Saito) cooks in the background and her live-wire half-brother runs round in his pants. Her family setup might still be considered unusual in conservative Japan, in fact one of her friends even exclaims that they’d never have guessed that her stepdad isn’t her birth father on hearing her mother was married before, but they are clearly very close and loving, ordinary in the very best of ways. Minami isn’t unhappy or lonely at home, she isn’t really thinking too much about her birth father even if perhaps on some level curious but the talisman becomes a thread to tug on, sending her on a quest of self-discovery seeking some answers about her past as she begins to come of age. 

To do this, she enlists the help of Moji’s older sibling Akihiro (Yudai Chiba), a transgender woman disowned by the conservative, traditionalist family of calligraphers and now living above a bookshop while working as a “detective”. As the pair find out, it’s less high crime than missing moggies that are Akihiro’s stock in trade but she’s moved to have a go helping to find Minami’s dad after looking at her bankbook containing her life savings, not for the amount but because she remembers saving up herself at Minami’s age to fund her reassignment surgery. Invoicing her later, Akihiro bills her zero yen telling her merely to make sure she uses her money to help others when she grows up, echoing the film’s pay it forward philosophy as advanced by Moji who teaches kids calligraphy at his dad’s school, advising Minami that people can only pass on skills they’ve learned from others and so perhaps she could teach someone to swim. Her birth father Tomomitsu (Etsushi Toyokawa), a former cult leader who lost faith in himself for being unable to teach his innate mind reading ability to his followers, eventually tells her the same thing, that what’s important in life isn’t grandstanding, trying to change the world all on your own, but sharing what you know in a gentle process of continuity and change. 

Ironically enough and in true teenage fashion, Minami finds new security in family after lying to her mother about going on a school trip to find her dad, later realising her mother is only slightly hurt about the lying and not at all about her reconnecting her birth father. Through her extended stay with him at the seaside she begins to find the courage step into herself, accepting the position of teacher in helping a lonely little girl learn to swim, while also processing her growing feelings for the equally shy Moji who leaves her space to complete her quest on her own but chases after her when he thinks she really might be in danger. A gentle summer story Okita’s breezy drama has a pleasingly timeless, occasionally retro feel, full of summer warmth in its spirit of acceptance and mutual support as its surprisingly carefree youngsters come to an appreciation of themselves and each other as they push forward into a more adult world with confidence and compassion. 


One Summer Story screened as part of Camera Japan 2020.

Teaser trailer (English subtitles)

Almost a Miracle (町田くんの世界, Yuya Ishii, 2019) [Fantasia 2019]

MNS_MAIN_B1_0311_ol“Being nice to everyone means hurting someone” the wounded heroine tries to explain to the perpetually confused hero of Yuya Ishii’s Almost a Miracle (町田くんの世界, Machida-kun no Sekai). After adapting a book of poetry and topping the Kinema Junpo list with the melancholy romance of urban ennui The Tokyo Night Sky is Always the Densest Shade of Blue, Ishii returns to the lighter fare which inspired his earliest work with a whimsical adaptation of the manga by Yuki Ando in which a goodly young man begins to realise that sometimes being nice to everyone can create additional complications.

The titular Machida (Kanata Hosoda) is one of those people who seem to be exclusively composed of goodness. He truly believes that each and every person in the world is precious and loves them equally, so when he sees someone, anyone, who seems unhappy or in need of help he comes running (literally). Everything begins to change for him, however, when he injures himself during an art lesson and is sent to the infirmary where he meets sullen delinquent Inohara (Nagisa Sekimizu) who bandages his hand in the absence of the nurse. Entirely unused to people doing nice things for him, Machida is struck by this unexpected act of kindness and resolves to make a friend of Inohara who seems lonely and claims to hate people – something Machida is incapable of understanding.

Indeed, nicknamed “Christ” by some of his more cynical classmates, Machida sees only the world’s beauty and just wants people to be happy. He assumes that’s the way everyone else feels too and so it doesn’t really occur to him that some people are just mean. Even when he meets someone acting badly he has a knack for spotting the unhappiness that lies behind it and the desire to help them heal. Thus he alone sees the accidental self-loathing and pathological need for acceptance that have led pretty boy model and popular kid Himuro (Takanori Iwata) to become a self-centred jerk who thinks sincerity is for babies and that “taking things seriously only makes everything harder”. He may have a sort of point in that it’s much easier to keep pretending nothing, especially other people’s feelings, is very important but it’s Machida alone who is perspicacious enough to remark on how sad it is that all of his “friends” have forgotten something he told them just a few minutes ago and instructs him that he needs to be kinder to himself rather than hanging out with vacuous people who don’t care about him at all just for the kudos of superficial acceptance. 

In fact, much of Machida’s laidback superpower is geared towards getting people to be more comfortable in themselves so that they can in turn accept others. Ironically, that’s mostly because he hasn’t yet quite accepted himself and thinks he’s the worst human of them all which is part of the reason he’s so nice to everyone as a means of repaying the kindnesses he’s been shown in the past.

Where Machida sees only the world’s beauty, cynical failed writer Yoshitaka (Sosuke Ikematsu) sees only its ugliness. His lofty literary ambitions having fallen by the wayside, Yoshitaka has become a tabloid hack and occasional paparazzo whose wife is beginning to lose faith in him as he sinks deeper into the morass of scandal rag “journalism”. Yoshitaka justifies his actions with the rationale that the world is rotten, filled with “evil” and home to only self-interested people who revel in the suffering of others. Several random encounters with Machida, however, force him to revise his opinion – if someone that good and that pure really exists then what does it say about the rest of us?

Then again, Machida’s guileless goodness can often make him accidentally insensitive as he tries to balance one person’s expectation of happiness against another’s. Thus he gets himself mixed up in an odd kind of love triangle with Himuro’s old girlfriend Sakura (Mitsuki Takahata) and the lovelorn Inohara who is becoming increasingly exasperated by Machida’s mixed signals, unable to figure out if he’s just being “kind” or actually might like her. Unfortunately, Machida doesn’t quite know himself as, ironically seeing as he’s so keen on emotional honesty in others, he is remarkably out of touch with his own feelings. In any case, his desire for “sincerity” in all things sees him steer clear of saying something which isn’t true to make someone happy even if he finds himself unable to express the truth plainly when it really counts.

Machida’s superpower, however, blows through the world like a gentle breeze spreading goodness wherever it goes. Proving it really does come back around, all the people that he’s helped eventually come running to help him so he can achieve his romantic destiny on the most romantic of days. A whimsical celebration of the infectious power of unguarded goodness, Almost a Miracle is a beautifully pitched counter to nihilistic cynicism in which kindness becomes a kind of superpower, saving the world one lost balloon at a time.


Almost a Miracle was screened as part of the 2019 Fantasia International Film Festival.

Original trailer (English subtitles)