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Pretty Bad85.71%
Total Crap: 14.29%

1 review, 1 rating

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Hana-Dama: The Origins
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by Jay Seaver

2 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2014 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Have you ever felt yourself gradually turn on a movie? It's something that can often be sense in an audience, as each member reaches a different point that ticks them off, and the feeling of the group shifts. The mounting feeling that "Hana-Dama" is getting further and further from good is something different, and can make it seem even more disappointing than a movie that sinks from the start.

Were introduced to Mizuki (Rina Sakuragi) cowering in a closet, locked in there by the other girls in her new class while her teacher turns a blind eye. She's been through worse, though, and has apparently grown into one of those teens who grit their teeth and count the days until graduation when she can get away from all this and her equally messed-up parents (Taro Suwa & Kei Fujiwara). Another bullied girl, Kirie (Maika Shimamura), isn't made of quite such stern stuff, and latches onto Mizuki for support. They join Shibanai (Syun Asada), a truant who has carved out a hiding hole on school grounds and whose problems come more from faculty than peers. Will that sort of support be enough to make it through a particularly cruel high school?

I don't know if I'd necessarily say I liked this movie for most of its running time, even beyond how it deals with the sort of cruelty that a viewer would rather not say he or she enjoyed, or if I'd call it "good", but I kind of admired its frankness about bullying, both among peer groups and institutionally. It's not the best-acted or most inventively written take on the idea, but I bought into it and sympathized with the characters, even when things were a little over-the-top. It had a moment I really liked, avoiding predictable, unsatisfying conflict. And even when the bullying becomes full-fledged sexual assault, I wanted to see how the characters either dug themselves out or served as a horrible object lesson.

And then the outright weird crap kicked in, with a corpse flower blooming out of Mizuki's head (something the movie had, despite its seeming randomness, been leading up to), and it just becomes awful. There's no satisfaction in the revenge fantasies that play out afterward, but no engagement, either. It just gets weirder and nastier and although some of what's going on is clearly meant to be symbolic, it seems both ham-fisted and off the mark much of the time, and while director and co-writer Hisayasu Sato had done a good job of not making the sexual acts particularly appealing in the early going, his long career as a director of pink movies reasserts itself toward the end. The set-up of this movie was nasty, but there was a point and weight to it; the end is just gross and numbing, and everything that had been interesting and genuine is swept aside.

Worst of all, Mizuki becomes boring. There's been a vitality to Rina Sakuragi's performance in the movie up until then, but from that point forward she's dull and lifeless. She'd been giving the film's best performance, although Maika Shimamura takes what sometimes seems like overacting and converts it into being a damaged teenager. There are some absurdly over-the-top characterizations, even beyond how emotionally volatile or damaged the characters are supposed to be.

As I said, this was always going to be a problematic movie, but there's something really poisonous about it even beyond its admittedly ugly themes. "Hana-Dama" starts out like a movie that has something to say, but squanders it in what seems like the nastiest, most useless way possible.

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originally posted: 08/29/14 13:41:42
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2014 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

9/04/14 amy tolley NOT A GOOD MOVIE AT ALL 1 stars
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Directed by
  Hisayasu Sato

Written by
  Shinji Imaoka

  Rina Sakuragi
  Maika Shimamura
  Syun Asada
  Eriko Nakamura
  Tei Tomari

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