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Poison Berry in My Brain
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by Jay Seaver

"A romantic comedy, inside out."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2015 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: I'm not sure when "Inside Out" opened in Japan, but I do wonder how many folks there saw it as less incredibly creative and insightful compared to their American counterparts, considering that the "Poison Berry in My Brain" manga has been running since 2009 and this live-action adaptation came out in May. The similarities are obvious - a female protagonist with a committee of five personality fragments debating over her next actions in her head, and some similar imagery - although I suspect that the romantic comedy plot gives it much less heft than Pixar's movie made for a younger audience.

In this case, we follow Ichiko Sakurai (Yoko Maki), a smart and attractive woman of twenty-nine whose odd mix of impulsiveness and indecision have recently cost her a job, although she is choosing to see it as more time to work on her novel. She has a harder time than usual making decisions, because seemingly every one must pass through a committee in her brain - thorough chairman Yoshida (Hidetoshi Nishijima), optimistic Ishibashi (Ryunosuke Kamiki), pessimistic Ikeda (Yo Yoshida), impulsive Hatoko (Hiyori Sakurada), and meticulous record-keeper Kishi (Kazuyuki Asano). Something else overrides them when she meets young sculptor Ryoichi Saotome (Yuki Furakawa), pulling her into a relationship that likely wouldn't be easy even if she were good at making choices.

There are times when being a romantic comedy makes Poison Berry rather frustrating - it keeps what is going on in the head of Ichiko too focused on one aspect of her life when there is clearly more going on; for example, that she's writing a novel sometimes seems more like a way to bring an alternate suitor into her life than a major deal on its own. It also obscures that her near-paralysis when it comes time to make decisions is perhaps the root of her problems, which should make the "internal" story focus more on how her various personality traits can work together, and the screenplay by Tomoko Aizawa doesn't have a great grasp on that. It seems even more unhealthy in terms of how it deals with Ichiko's sexuality, although that may come from Setona Mizushiro's source material.

For all its stumbles, though, it's frequently very funny, especially with the rapid-fire debates going on inside her head. Ryunosuke Kamiki and Yo Yoshida are an opposites-attract pair themselves as her optimism and neurosis, and young Hiyori Sakurada is almost always hilarious as her impulsive side, especially when those impulses sound a wee bit more adult than the child used to represent them. The castle-in-the-void setting gives the place some abstraction while also making sure we see the conflicting traits as people rather than just concepts, and while this seldom seems like it could really work in the way that the more detailed take seen in Inside Out does, the screwball delivery is a lot of fun, enough to make it worth rolling with.

The way that these "committee" scenes work means that Yoko Maki often winds up having to play indecision or blurt out things that don't make real-world sense as a result, but she does a fairly good job of making Ichiko indecisive without often looking like she's being fed instructions or coming off as whichever one out of Ishibashi, Ikeda, or Hatoko is closest to the microphone. She's also tremendously charming on her own, able to hold the screen when director Yuichi Sato opts not to cut away to the fragments reacting rather than the whole, even if they are kind of what the audience came to see, making Ichiko often frustratingly indecisive but worth the effort. It would be nice if either Yuki Furukawa as her younger boyfriend or Songha as her smitten editor seemed like a great pairing, both playing their parts ably enough but neither seeming fleshed-out enough to be worth so much debate.

Indeed, there are a few times I wished "Poison Berry in My Brain" could have been about everything in Ichiko's life besides dating; it's where Maki is the most magnetic and the film's tendency to avoid sexuality as part of her personality rather than something which occasionally overwhelms it would be the least troublesome. It's still very entertaining despite that, and maybe there would be room to deal with those other issues in a sequel.

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originally posted: 09/12/15 12:16:06
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2015 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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Directed by
  Yuichi Sato

Written by
  Tomoko Aizawa
  Setona Mizushiro

  Yoko Maki
  Hidetoshi Nishijima
  Yuki Furukawa
  Yo Yoshida

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