by Erica Noboa
Part of our coverage of the 2015 Ithaca International Fantastic Film FestivalEver since her brother was supposedly abducted by aliens, our heroine, Otsuki Haruko (Moeka Nozaki), has been on the search for a paranormal encounter of her own. She starts off as an awkward high school student who has an obsession with tracking down UFOs and begins to hate her family after catching her father (Kohinata Fumiyo), a teacher at her high school, allegedly cheating on his wife with another student. A decade later, Haruko has grown into an adult, but has become none the wiser. Her lifestyle is mundane, and her only activities consist of lazing around at home watching hysterically absurd shows on her old-fashioned television set. Haruko vents all of her built up frustrations by yelling at the television, not knowing it actually has a secret counting device inside, which clicks up at each curse word she says. When the counter hits ten thousand, the television suddenly transforms into a hunk of a man (Aoi Nakamura).
The two strike up a casual friends-with-benefits relationship and continue to cohabitate in her tiny apartment. This launches a sequence of events in which the human TV confuses the reality of the shows he has been broadcasting over the years with living in the real world. In order to find out what he is, he tries to assert a more independent role in their relationship by finding a job. He finds success due to his multiple talents and capability of speaking a dozen languages. The television lands himself a job at a studio, becoming a national celebrity. But as he branches out into the human world, a wedge begins to form between himself and Haruko, leaving her to wonder if this is truly the paranormal encounter she had so desperately desired.
What can only be described as an unhinged rollercoaster ride of a movie, this film is heavily influenced by the creative style of Japanese cartoon TV series. With vibrant colors accenting every inch of this story, the audience catches an insightful glimpse into the imaginative mind of Lisa Takeba. The director not only brings an inanimate object to life, but also fills her film with plenty of interesting characters and intricately translates her Alice in Wonderland-type of world to the screen with exciting art direction. Beneath the psychedelic facade, however, is a subtle jab at modern society’s dependence on technology and a cynical view of celebrity culture and art.
The sentiment of the film is one that relies quite openly on comedy and quips, with a bit of surrealism thrown in as well. It wastes little time with scientific explanations of how the TV comes to life in the first place. That is also why the film never appears sluggish. Nevertheless, it’s tough not to point out some of the drawbacks in the script, such as the B-story concerning the theme of family. The focus given to establishing the bland relationship between Haruko and her father is very slight and is only included to add a comedic effect to the plot. It’s also hard to decide whether the audience should root for the romance between the human girl and the paranormal TV due to the many challenges they encounter along the way.
Despite these comments, Haruko’s Paranormal Laboratory manages to engage and entertain from start to finish and thrives on its themes of relationships in the modern world—something that is a major concern in Japan’s post-idealistic culture.
3 out of 5 stars