Goth (2008) by Gen Takahashi

Two teens obsessed with murder decide to follow the diary of a serial killer to find his most recent victim. Despite having a seeminlgy happy homelife with his mother and sister, Itsuki Kamiyama (Kanata Hongo) has a dark obsession, sneaking out to visit gruesome crime scenes. His classmate Yoru Morino (Rin Takanashi) shares this morbid fascination, living alone and investigating horrors in her gothic study. When Yoru finds a diary belonging to a killer who severs the left hands of his victims and poses them like art installations, their interest leads them to follow his trail of death, rather than turning in this important evidence to the police.

The ‘goth’ subculture: dark clothes, fixation on death, suffering, murder, and all things dark and gruesome, is a fascinating social phenomenon. The film never quite gets to the root of why its protagonists have such an apathetic and nihilistic world-view, but it does capture their behaviour and ennui perfectly. Rin Takanashi’s Yoru is a pale, lonely figure, who drifts through life like a ghost herself following a childhood accident that left her sister dead. Meanwhile, Kanata Hongo’s Itsuki seems on the surface to be a sociable, well-adjusted high-schooler, who nevertheless engages in morbid fantasies. It makes for an interesting crime-horror film in which the two protagonists are not particularly interesting in cracking the case, but instead fascinated by the idea of murder and serial killers. The dark tone, covering suicide and death, may be off-putting to some, but it creates an stomach-churning tension that goes beyond the usual shock of more grotesque horror fare. The darkness here comes from the characters’ deep well of alienation and twisted idolisation of despicable acts. The two constantly refer to the aesthetic beauty in how the murderer poses the corpses, showing their complete disassociation with the act of killing and death. The soundtrack, featuring a peculiarly eerie marimba melody and choral recitations, further enforces this sense of dread, occasionally turning to something more angelic and operatic to show how the teens themselves view their activities as almost transcendental. For them there is nothing morbid about researching killers, but instead something beautiful, beholding the line between life and death and the transience of existence. When Yoru lies in the river where one of the victims was placed, Itsuki imagines her with blood streaming from a slashed wrist. It is both disturbing yet darkly beautiful as we see her life essence swept along in the current, suggestive of tragic archetypes throughout the ages.

No doubt “Goth” will prove a hard watch for some, as it forgoes the usual impulse of films to want justice to be done for murder victims. In closing the film solves many questions that you might want answered, but leaves much more to audience interpretation. The film could be seen as a rumination on society’s fascination with death and murder. Although not always to the extent of the protagonists here, humans have an insatiable appetite for real life crime documentaries, stories about serial killers, and often ignore the plight of the victims, instead interested only in the idea rather than the reality. In the same way the protagonists look at the world in a cold, distant way, barely moved by the sight of death. The extent of the goth subculture and fascination with murder outside of it, speaks to a deep-seated need in humans to attempt to understand our own morality and nature, dwelling on this disturbing yet inevitable fact of life. Itsuki casually remarks that people can be divided into those who kill and those who are killed. It is a dark commentary on mankind, but it does highlight this duality of man in his twisted worldview.

On the Edge of Their Seats (2020) by Hideo Jojo

Two friends in their final year of high-school, Asuha (Rina Ono) and Hikaru (Marin Nishimoto), arrive to watch a baseball game, a sport they know very little about. They are joined by fellow student, Fujino (Amon Hirai), who used to play but has since given up, and later the studious Miyashita (Shuri Nakamura) whose reasons for being there are less clear. Despite the urging of the enthusiastic English teacher, Mr. Atsugi, the four are at first uncomfortable cheering on their team who are playing much stronger opponents.

“On the Edge of their Seats” plays out almost as a one-act theatre piece, with the majority of the action taking place on the bleachers at the baseball game. We never see the field or players, instead the camera is firmly fixed on these often indifferent spectators, creating a unique dynamic as we see their reactions to the game and their discussions, and attention, wandering to and from the baseball. The actors are believable in their roles, with their naturalistic performances helped by a well observed, lightly comic script from Tetsuya Okumura. The story moves deftly from the humour of Asuha and Hikaru’s complete ignorance about the sport they are watching to themes of strained friendships, broken dreams and unrequited love. We learn that Asuha and Hikaru are members of the drama club, their hopes of participating in regional finals dashed by Hikaru catching the flu at the last minute; Fujino is pining for the quiet Miyashita; top student Miyashita is dealing with losing out on top place on a recent test to her romantic rival Kusumi (Hikari Kuroki). The script builds all the elements quietly, slowly introducing new strands to the story and creating believable characters who have a good chemistry together. It cuts away from the stands occasionally, using the setting of the baseball stadium well to break up the action.

A fun, coming-of-age film that takes a unique approach to its familiar themes. The friendship of Asuha and Hikaru being tested; the faltering romances of several characters; the stress surrounding test results; and teenage angst, are all encapsulated in a single afternoon spent watching baseball. Although we do not see the game, baseball is used as an allegory for life throughout. The idea of the outfielders, paid little attention until they make a mistake, or the incompetent batter who nevertheless remains determined to succeed, provide parallels with the way society treats those unlucky individuals who fail to make centre stage. The idea of the characters as observers, rather than players, emphasises this idea, with them sitting as far away from the ‘action’ as they can. The teacher character of Atsugi, as might be expected in a teen drama, offers several words of wisdom throughout. The four characters, who have largely given up on their dreams, are shown that it is not the result but the effort that is most important; and that people should continue chasing their dreams no matter how many setbacks they encounter.

Re/Member (2022) by Eiichiro Hasumi

A group of high-school students are tasked with reconstructing a body to stop a monstrous curse in this teen action-horror. Asuka (Kanna Hashimoto) is an introverted high-school girl who struggles to fit in after an incident in her early school life left her ostracised from the popular groups. At midnight one night she finds herself transported to a chapel by the school, along with five other students, Rumiko (Maika Yamamoto), Rie (Yokota Mayu), Atsushi (Fuju Kamio) Takahiro (Gordon Maeda) and Shota (Kotaro Daigo). The bookish Shota is able to shed light on their situation, explaining that they must recover several severed body parts and lay them in a casket in the chapel. They are hunted through the school by a bloodied child carrying a teddy bear, the victim of an historic murder. Failure, often due to being killed by the bloodied child, results in the six being returned to the morning of the previous day. In order to break this cycle they must work together to find all the parts of the body.

Re/Member starts out strong, with some brutal horror and excellent direction by Eiichiro Hasumi perfectly capturing the creepy vibe. The group of school-children being hunted by a supernatural horror is a well-worn story by now, but the gruesome deaths, eerie night-time chases around the school, and the mysterious past of the monster are stylishly woven together. The film’s main failing is in the fact that the story removes most of the tension by explaining that they will repeat the same night over again if they are killed. This wouldn’t be an issue if not for the fact that the characters themselves soon seem overly relaxed about their predicament, taking time out for a fun day at the beach, and even moments of romance, seemingly unconcerned by being brutally murdered night after night. The lack of threat undermines the elements that are well done, with some fun action and excellent special effects. The earlier monster of the young blood-spattered child is replaced by a less effective antagonist later in the film. Threat is added later on when the teenagers’ mortality is re-established, but this could have been included from the beginning. The horror score creates a sense of dread that manages to recapture some of the terror that should be felt. If you can put aside the large plot-holes and inexplicable story elements then “Re/Member” is a fun teen horror. The film is based on a web novel, with a screenplay by Harumi Doki.

One element that the film strives to bring out is the relationship between the characters. The notion that the monster is the personification of their loneliness is an interesting element, but one that fits poorly with the fact that it is trying to tear them limb from limb. The solidarity and comradeship the six require to defeat it is a positive message, but again the questions over exactly what the purpose of the ‘Body Hunt’ is for stands in the way of any other considerations. Much like the dismembered corpse, it is a film that seems put together from several popular teen move tropes. Although it is not particularly original, the cast and set-piece action moments are strong enough to make for an enjoyable action horror.

Bittersand (2021) by Tomoya Sugimoto

When scurrilous rumours are written about high-school student Eriko (Ayane Kinoshita), classmate Akito (Yuki Inoue) decides to take the blame. This seemingly frivolous decision leads to seven years of regret as Akito is unable to forget what happened following the incident. Now grown up, Akito’s friend, Yusuke (Riku Hagiwara), an amateur film-maker suggests using their high-school experiences as the focus of a documentary, and the two attend a reunion with plans of revealing all about what really happened.

“Bittersand”, requires suspension of disbelief that the rumours surrounding Eriko would have led to her total ostracisation and would still be relevant to the characters seven years later. Sadly, the moment of revelation is more likely to provoke a shrug rather than any sense of surprise. If something more serious than the juvenile relationship troubles and teenage pregnancy were the reason for the class still harbouring any interest in what happened, it could have been more impactful. The film itself even appears to acknowledge this with one fellow former-student laughing off Akito and Yusuke’s presentation and wondering why the others aren’t willing to simply get on with the reunion afterwards. The film misses a chance to focus on things that would be more interesting, such as why one characters physical appearance changes drastically, how one character managed to raise a child as a teen mother, or even giving us an insight into how the original incident affected the characters. The film is not all bad, with a mixed bag of performances, and some great direction. Perhaps the worst you could say about the film is that it is underwhelming; that it answers questions that the audience weren’t interested in asking.

One of the themes of “Bittersand” is how memories and experiences can linger and affect our later lives. Even something as seemingly insignificant as the events of Akito’s high-school years stay with him. The use of frequent flashbacks is an effective way to show this, emphasising the idea that past and present are inextricably interlinked, and our consciousness often drifts from one to the other without distinction. As discussed the film often misses out on exploring its most interesting elements. The ideas of infidelity, regret, the importance of the truth and the impact of malicious rumours, and the unreliability of memories, are left to wither on the vine. A fairly innocuous young adult melodrama that will appeal to people who like high-school gossip. The moment of exposure, with a criminal investigation style chart up on the blackboard is absurdly over-the-top, perhaps suggesting that the film is intentionally comedic.

5 Centimeters Per Second (2007) by Makoto Shinkai

Two teens face a difficult separation in this melancholic exploration of young love. Takaki Tono (Kenji Mizuhashi) and Akari Shinohara (Yoshimi Kondo) become friends after both transferring to the same high school in Tokyo. After Akari moves north to Tochigi they remain in correspondence. Takaki decides to take a train to meet her, knowing it will perhaps be the last time as he is soon due to move with his family as well. As the snowy weather worsens and the train is delayed, his agony at reuiniting with Akari is heightened. Following Takaki’s move another girl, Kanae Sumida (Satomi Hanamura), becomes romantically interested in Takaki, but realises that she is unable to close the distance between them due to his longing for Akari.

Makoto Shinkai’s “5 Centimeters Per Second” returns to a theme from his earlier short film “Voices of a Distant Star”, that of a separated couple struggling with loneliness and yearning for human connection. It is unconventional as films go in that there is very little plot or dialogue, with most of the story told through the internal monologues of Takaki and Kanae. Instead it explores its themes in a more expressionistic way, creating a tangible world through small details. Water droplets on a train window; the light from a vending machine at a remote station; cherry blossoms blowing by a railway crossing; all of these picturesque images evoke feelings that are relatable but impossible to describe. The film is around sixty minutes and comrpised of three segments. The first shows Takaki travelling to meet Akari, the second Kanae procrastinating in confessing her love to Takaki, and the third some time later as both Takaki and Akari regret their loss. This atypical structure and lack of any conclusion or closure for the characters may be offputting to some, with its melancholic ending. It is best to approach the film more as an experience, one that you can explore and enjoy without worrying about following a narrative or hoping for plot points to be tied together. What the film does offer is a unique take on the romantic drama, with animation that realises the beauty of the everyday, the commonplace given significance by the characters. The world of “5 Centimeters Per Second” is searingly real in its ordinariness, with delayed trains, and circumstances outwith the characters control, but manages to find magic in these familiar environments.

“5 Centimeters Per Second” refers to the speed at which cherry blossoms fall to the ground. The film, with its twin focus on both the industrial, trains and rockets, and natural worlds, fields and oceans, relates to the central theme that life moves on in spite of humans. Takaki and Akari’s sundered love is hearbtreaking precisely because nothing changes around them. They are left yearning for something that will never come to pass while the world moves on. At its heart the film questions what that love is when it cannot be expressed; it shows us a vision of a beautiful yet uncaring world, the joy and hope of being in love tempered by human anxieties and feelings of helplessness. A stunning experimental animation that eschews traditional narrative to create something more poetic and at times transcendent.