Friday, January 13, 2023

The Whole is Greater Than the Sum of its Parts: Himeanole (2016)

Himeanole (2016, Japan)
Rating: ****
Starring: Gô Morita, Gaku Hamada and Aimi Satsukawa

Awkward and hilarious, disturbing and depressing. Yep, not your typical love story...

Starting up pretty light, we follow an uninspired assistant cleaner Okada (Gaku Hamada) as he discovers that his older co-worker Ando (Tsuyoshi Muro) is deeply infatuated with Yuka (Aimi Satsukawa), a waitress working at a nearby coffee shop. Ando, being the awkward person that he is inside and out, finds it hard building up the courage to tell Yuka how he feels, so he ropes in Okada to help him ease the way to her heart and the two soon learn that the waitress is having a spot of trouble dealing with a stalker. The two guys help Yuka avoid the creep, they became friends and things seem to be heading for the better despite Ando's ulterior motives to win Yuka's heart.

And then Yuka feel in love with Okada. Which the boy did not saw coming but welcomes either way. Not wanting to shatter Ando's fragile state of mind and emotion (and due to threats of being chainsawed to death), however, the young couple decided to date in secret, not knowing that the stalker they were avoiding all this time may have been closer than they imagined and it's only a matter of time before the freak finally loses it...

Curiously, all of this is just the first half of the movie and it is around this time that Himeanole (2016) fittingly opted to play it's credits, making way to the rawer meat and bone of the story. (Yeah, Friday the 13th (2009) has a contender for the longest opening act!) Shifting most of the focus away from Okada, Yuka and Ando, the second half follows the disturbed exploits of one Morita (Gô Morita), Okada's former high school classmate and Yuka's stalker, as he's forced to murder some of the people he's blackmailing after they attacked him in his apartment and then setting everything on fire to hide the evidence. Now wondering aimlessly in the city, Morita stalks, rapes and murders his way into houses, plays pachinko (Japanese arcade machines) for potential earnings and suffer from various flashbacks detailing the bullying he endured during high school which led to his current murderous and monstrous state.

As more people fall victim to Morita's unrelenting brutality and depravity, the closer he gets to reaching both Yuka and Okada, the two people he's aiming to end the most.

Based on the manga Hime-anole by Minoru Furuya, Himeanole (2016) is a weird yet fascinating craft that offers a palette of tone and emotions, navigating from the silly and awkward, to the devious and vile. It toyed with expectations by initially making itself look like an observational comedy drama about two weirdos trying to win the heart of a cute dream girl, a situational gag wherein our trio grows to be likable individuals despite their flaws and oddities, only for it all to twisted into a dark and emotional backlash of betrayals, murders and rapes stemming from a damaged man's trauma and abuse, all of it senseless and shocking.

What works to the film's advantage is its wonderful set of casts playing their roles effectively; Hamada and Tsuyoshi make an odd pair of friends, but both don their characters with a good balance of charm and sympathy that the friendship is endearing in their chemistry despite the troubles they're inadvertently causing to one another. Aimi Satsukawa does a well enough job to be the sweet cute girl any guy would want, which made it easy for us to understand why Ando fell hard for her to begin with. And, of course, we got Gô Morita as, well, Morita, probably the most memorable slice of talent in this number as he played his card as a disturbed serial killer and rapist with a frighteningly realistic angle, so much so that it's awfully conflicting to feel sorry for him even when the story decided to give us flashbacks explaining why he ended up so deep into the muck. All I got to say is when Himeanole (2016) became a horror film, Gô Morita owned it!

Production values of the film is great for most parts; the wide array of scoring branches from the whimsy to the haunting befitting the two faced-tone of the story. Camera work also found a way to play with the shift as it starts out static and focused at the mostly innocent first half to emphasize its calmness before gradually devolving into shaky, hand-held cinematography to show how out of control the second part has become. The minimal use of CG on the killings, too, gave the murders a more savage note, adding further horror to the already nightmarish crime spree. The rapes, thankfully, are toned down to offscreen assaults, though there is that matter of "less is more" being used here as the acts building up to the sexual violence have enough grit and intensity to them that the implications are just as horrifying.

Honestly, Himeanole (2016) is plenty of things; a real test of patience and gut, a say on bullying and guilt, a tour de force on unorthodox direction, all of these despite shuffling about some of the usual horror pitfalls like useless law enforcers and questionable character choices. I strongly recommend this for those who are more adventurous with their horror selections, those seeing to outdo themselves from the usual paint-by-number scares and bloodletting, looking for a real hidden gem to satisfy that urge!

1 male killed offscreen, implied beaten with a baseball bat and strangled to death
1 male stabbed in the neck with a pen, brained with a steel pipe
1 female beaten to death with a steel pipe
3 victims mentioned killed in a burning building
1 female murdered offscreen
1 female found strangled to death with a power chord
1 male knifed to death
1 male had a knife pushed into his chest
1 male shot to death
1 male repeatedly knifed, had his head ran over with a van
Total: 12

No comments:

Post a Comment