Wonderful World End

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 08/28/15 09:01:06

"If you're like the characters, it may indeed be 'wonderful'."
3 stars (Average)

SCREENED AT THE 2015 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: As soon as I saw this one, I figured that it may need some mulling over, although more for its downright peculiar ending than the occasional sense that as someone who is not a teenage Japanese girl, this film is mostly - and fairly - indifferent to me. "Wonderful World End" gets outright weird in its last act, although I'm sure that a fair number of adults will find it difficult to relate to well before that. It's at least interesting for that and gets the bulk of its ideas across, which isn't always the case.

It is, after all, the story of two teenage girls, Shiori (Ai Hashimoto) extremely confident in her appearance and trying to be a model/actress/idol and Ayumi (Jun Aonami) a 13-year-old fan who runs away from home to meet up with the older girl. A weird sort of jealousy develops when Ayumi is taken in by Shiori's boyfriend Kohei (Yu Inaba), but as things progress, the obsessive fandom has interesting effects on the entire trio.

The phenomenon of "idol stars" is hardly unique to Japan - variations of the term have been used around the world from the earliest matinee idols to Pop Idol and its American spinoff - but that sort of obsessive fandom seems to be most codified and accepted there. Stories about would-be stars getting tangled up with individuals from their small fandoms aren't new either, but writer/director Daigo Matsui does a fine job here of taking advantage of how twenty-first century social media heightens those real and imagined bonds by encouraging interactivity where before there was a buffer, or encouraging people to think of each other as "friends" and "followers". He's not the first to do so, but he does much better than usual at examining the concept without stating this as a goal or treating it as shocking or unusual.

At times, I wasn't quite certain about Shiori's deal - it often seems like she's in her early 20s and playing a teenager online, especially since she's living with her boyfriend and apparently has nowhere else to go otherwise, but other moments indicate she's just what she says she is despite referencing being "out of character". Either way, Ai Hashimoto makes her intriguing - Shiori is often quite shallow without seeming vacant the way such characters often do. There may not be profound depth to this character, but there's a surprising amount of humanity, and Hashimoto does well to let the audience see it throughout.

Meanwhile, Ayumi's quiet sincerity seems kind of scary at times, because it is not directed in a healthy direction at all. Jun Aonami makes Ayumi so quiet initially that she almost seems to vanish visually, but as she starts to assert herself a bit more, Aonami makes her worrisome: Just as there's a humanity to Shiori's selfishness, there's a bit of a void to Ayumi's devotion and generosity. Intriguingly, it jumps into sharper relief when we see her not with Shiori or Kohei, but her mother. Marie Machida is tasked with presenting a woman that the audience quite pointedly knows little about, with moments where she seems eminently reasonable and others where she's at her wit's end, and it lets Aonami bring Ayumi's defiant, sometimes cruel behavior to the surface.

That end, though, with a bunch of new elements and sharp hints that someone is nuts and this is playing out in her mind... I wonder if it's supposed to be a call-out to the music videos the cast (and Matsui, perhaps) did for Seiko Oomori, whose songs make up a big chunk of the soundtrack and who appears in a couple of scenes (she's Shiori's favorite musician). It really seems like a big break from the rest, and I don't know how much it works, although Matsui does a nice job of making this fantasy seem like a break from reality but also a reasonable extension of how these two teenagers would see the word, a mix of horrific and fairy-tale imagery.

It's strange, for sure, although it will certainly perk up the viewer who, with some justification, may feel like Matsui and his cast set up some interesting characters and situations but didn't do much with them. It's almost like "Wonderful World End" needed a story but the filmmakers didn't want to push it to a larger scale and compromised, which may work well for the audience it's meant to connect with even if it causes the rest of us to scratch our heads.

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