A young woman with the ability to see people’s true thoughts thanks to a magic mirror becomes consumed with hatred for the world’s duplicity but finds unexpected connection with a girl who never lies in the stylish debut feature from Tomoki Suzuki, Enma-san (えんまさん). Named for the Japanese god of hell, the film finds the emo heroine looking for an escape from a nihilistic existence in which nothing and no one can be trusted but rather than salvation finding only further despair in realising even she may not be exempt from the curse.
17-year-old Ema lives alone with her mother and mostly keeps to herself at school. Sometimes people try to befriend her and she concedes they’re kind, but there’re also “liars” mostly trying out of pity. Since coming into possession of a mirror which looks just like that of the great god Enma, she’s been confronted by the gap between what people say and what they really think unable to put up with such moral duplicity. But then she comes across a young woman who looks perfectly normal in the usually warped vision of her mirror. It is as she says love at first sight. Realising Seira is being badly bullied by her classmates, Ema resolves to do something about it, not least because she thinks people who are honest should be rewarded and Seira doesn’t deserve to be treated so poorly.
Indeed, with her strong sense of justice, Ema comes to take on the form of Lord Enma himself vowing to punish and eradicate liars starting with Seira’s bullies. Yet in meeting her there’s something in Seira which seems to soften her resolve. Though she had shunned the human world, Ema gradually begins to warm up to it while spending time with Seira who perhaps isn’t quite as honest as she’s made out to be but has managed to find an accommodation with an acceptable level of deception. Ema refuses to wear makeup because it’s like pretending to be someone else while becoming anxious about the idea of touching up the photos they had taken in a sticker booth at the arcade because it means they’re altering the truth of the image. Seira meanwhile corrects her pointing out that her makeup is barely noticeable, while even if the photo is inauthentic the memory it represents is not. She even convinces her to eat a slice of cake at a cafe, a place she ordinarily wouldn’t go and food she wouldn’t usually eat as it would be made by liars.
Then again there’s a healthy amount of self-deception going on with Ema as she finds herself sinking into the persona of Lord Enma, threatening to cut out people’s tongues and eventually embarking on a dark and twisted path towards nihilistic violence disguised as justice. But then not quite everything is as she assumes it to be, later discovering Seira may not be quite as honest as she first thought and has troubles of her own with overbearing perfectionist parents whose approval she is so desperate to gain that she’s even willing to cheat. The connection between the two women, be it friendship or something more, is genuine yet they are to some degree on opposing sides while the tension inside Ema threatens to turn her into that which she most hates in the ambivalence of her emotions.
Divided into chapters through a series of elegantly designed title cards, Suzuki’s cool colour palette bears out the loneliness and resentment of Ema’s nihilistic world view brightening only when she’s around Seira, while occasionally shifting into Ema’s mirror vision in which the world becomes blurry amid the unreality of so many liars. Yet as she’s told towards the end by a sympathetic policewoman lies are a normal part of human nature and may even be essential to a well functioning society, the tragedy being that Ema is not aware of her self-delusion until fully forced to face herself and the confusion of her feelings. Still for a few brief moments she discovered how “comfortable and pleasant” it could be trusting other people even if it turns out somewhat ironically that her trust, if not perhaps her faith, may have been mistaken.
Enma-san screened as part of the 2022 Yubari International Fantastic Film Festival.
Original trailer (no subtitles)