Actress Yûka Eda makes a confident debut with an ethereal tale of two adolescent girls
Dir/scr. Yûka Eda. Japan. 2017. 101 mins.
Employing the pastel palette of wistful teenage dreams, Girls’ Encounter spins the coming-of-age template into a textured exploration of loneliness, isolation and the need for connection. The filmmaking debut of actress-turned-writer/director Yûka Eda, it might be the latest recent Japanese effort to take on female yearning and marginalisation, but this involving feature is a mature addition to the growing thematic subgenre. Indeed, the film’s matching of its ethereal visuals with its emotional journey makes this both a confident debut and a perceptive evocation of adolescent tumult.
Eda’s visuals, under the lens of Yûko Hirami, are the movie’s shimmering centrepiece
After premiering in Hong Kong, Girls’ Encounter will screen at several local festivals, before a selective Japanese theatrical rollout from June. Further Asian events should snap it up; however the film boasts the universal resonance to venture further on the international circuit. Its magical realist leanings might not play as well in the west, but even when the feature stumbles, it does so purpose. Above all else, Eda tries to create something affecting and appealing — even if it sometimes proves a little too delicate and precious in its mood.
That tone mirrors the film’s protagonist perfectly. Miyuri Obara (Moeka Hoshi) is a quiet outsider among the mean girls at her provincial school, opting to keep to herself — and to tackle her angst through tentative self-harm — rather than fight back. Her only companion is, in fact, a silkworm, but even that bond is short-lived. When her bullies discover the creature, they cruelly fling it into the forest, leave Miyuri in a state of undress and distress, and mercilessly laugh at her misfortune.
Then Tsumugi (Serena Motola) steps out of the trees, offering an intimate act of kindness and becoming the best friend Miyuri has always wanted. Their camaraderie doesn’t just spring thick, firm and fast; it’s the type of close, deep connection described in Girls’ Encounter’s opening narration as a 1-in-240-billion chance. Instantly inseparable, Tsumugi helps Miyuri regain her much-needed self-esteem. They plan a secret getaway to Okinawa, face the school’s queen bees and even have Miyuri’s oppressors clamouring to be their pals. That said, there’s a feeling that something isn’t quite right — added to the fact that, in Japanese, the newcomer’s name refers to spinning and silk.
While the silkworm thread intrigues more than it enchants, Eda’s screenplay astutely captures the terror of teen torment, the seemingly life-changing relief that comes with finding someone on your own wavelength, and the constant uncertainty that exists between the two extremes. More than that, it’s not afraid to veer into dark but important territory, without ever feeling like a message-espousing movie of the week. The dialogue threatens to spell things out a little too bluntly, but Hoshi and Motola’s performances are intricate and nuanced.
Eda’s visuals, under the lens of Yûko Hirami, are the movie’s shimmering centrepiece. Here, differences in light and shade convey the way a perspective can brighten when a lonely soul feels as though they’ve finally been seen.
Production company: Spotted Productions
International sales: GLASGOW15, firstname.lastname@example.org
Producer: Takutoshi Naoi
Cinematography: Yûko Hirami
Editing: Eda Yûka
Production design: Takuya Sugiyama
Music: Takao Ôishi
Main cast: Moeka Hoshi, Serena Motola