Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sun Aug 13, 2023 7:10 am 
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A Japanese subculture reveals isolation and emotional fragility of young people

Co-scripted by Kaneko, her directorial debut, and adapted from a story collection by Ao Omae, the story focuses on three protagonists who are members of a Kyoto university plushies club: Tsuyoshi Nanamori (Kanata Hosoda), a sensitive guy who can’t feel romantic love; Mimiko Mugito (Ren Komai), a depressive girl who befriends him; and Yui Shiraki (Yuzumi Shintani), a cheerfully frank woman whose interest in the club begins as a mystery. Tsuyoshi and Mimiko, college freshmen, enter a club, expecting a craft workshop, and find instead people interacting with plushies, cuddling, confiding, sharing with them, wearing earplugs to avoid eavesdropping on the others. But they're similarly introverted, and find here in the "PLC," the plushie club, a sympathetic environment.

For the very shy, this is a good outlet. And for the shyest of cultures, the Japanese, it's an logical development. Yui Shiraki comes because she has been sexually harassed in another club. She and Tsuyoshi, who's been shown at first to be ready but unable to proceed with girls, start dating, though Yui says he doesn't seem like a lover. (In fact she dumps him, after a night in bed together in which nothing happens.)

Mark Schilling opens his Japan Times review of this film by saying that recent surveys have shown 40% of Japanese young people (20's and 30's) are unhappy; the need for this kind of comforting, in other words, is widespread in the culture. For a western viewer, the film, with its sweetness and delicacy and odd interactions, at first will look like science fiction. But with a sense of Japanese culture, the whole thing makes sense quite quickly, and winds up not being so remote after all. We just want to see how it will play out.

Tsuyoshi and Yui become a temporary couple, but Tsuyoshi also has to tend to Mimiko, who becomes so shy she can't leave her room. He brings her class notes so she can go on with university in some form, but she seems like a stranded-away-from-home hikikomori person, a severe case. (Eventually, she finds her way out.) A girl in the PLC is gay, and brings her girlfriend. She knows the club members won't judge her. A boy with whiskers remains undefined, but we see what he needs to talk to a plushie about is the meanness and hostility in the world. The others do craft plushies, but this guy says he just makes "pockets." He took the eyes off.

More trouble comes for Tsuyushi, who emerges (shyly) as the main character. At first trying to remain friends, he later clashes with Shiraki, who finds him too self-righteous, and this pains him. He goes home because the family dog, Gon, has died. He addresses the deceased Gon and introduces him to Ghostly, the plushie he has made, but cuts himself off when his mom appears. He goes out with some old pals, but when they mock him for being a virgin, he runs off offended: he is just too sensitive for this world.

And now Mimiko, who has come out of her room, finds Tsuyoshi, looking different, his hair bleached orange, he says, to look"more like a ghost." He is damaged. (Is he maybe non-binary?) They have a long, intimate conversation, explaining themselves. The dialogue takes a decided ##MeToo slant; it risks editorializing too obviously. But the two young actors are very touching. Yurina Kaneko has a fresh voice here.

The story remains open-ended. The plushie club and its members are an oasis in a cruel world, for sure; a new member shows its help is ongoing. But is there such a thing as being too kind, too sweet? Shiraki thinks so. She doesn't talk to plushies...

People Who Talk to Plushies Are Kind ぬいぐるみとしゃべる人はやさしい, 109 mins., opened Apr. 14, 2023 in Japan; festival showings Jun. and July in Shanghai and Montreal. Screened for this review as part of Japan Cuts, New York (Jul. 26-Aug. 6, 2023)where it was shown Saturday, August 5, 2023, 6:30 pm (US premiere).

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