Imagine 2016 Review: Oshii Mamoru Takes NOWHERE GIRL To His Familiar Places

Associate Editor, Features; Rotterdam, The Netherlands (@ardvark23)
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Imagine 2016 Review: Oshii Mamoru Takes NOWHERE GIRL To His Familiar Places
(The movie which can be summed up as "Stay awake, stay awake, stay awake, WHOA!!!)

One cannot help but wonder what would happen if Japanese director Oshii Mamuro would ever decide to make a straightforward action film. Whether he is doing anime like Ghost in the Shell or live-action like Avalon, the man is rightfully legendary for his action scenes, which are often iconic, and have been endlessly copied worldwide. A self-confessed gun nut, he combines incredible body movements with heavy metal fan-service like no other.

It has therefore always been incredibly frustrating that he never seems particularly interested in making a straightforward action film, being more attracted to slow philosophical musings. More often than not his films turn out to be an acquired taste, and this has never been more obviously apparent than in his latest live-action film Nowhere Girl, which played at the Imagine Film Festival in Amsterdam last week. James Marsh included the film in his "Best Asian films of 2015" list, which brought my expectations up a good notch. Oshii may be hit-or-miss, but when he hits, he hits me hard. But in that article James warned readers about the film having a slow start, and holy cow, he wasn't lying!

Nowhere-Girl-poster.jpgIn Nowhere Girl, we follow a girl in an art school. Having been diagnosed with a severe case of PTSS, she is being given preferential treatment, being allowed to leave classes and work by herself on some strange "art object", an activity which will hopefully heal her.

The teachers and her fellow students are increasingly annoyed with her disruptive presence, and (fairly) argue that she should be in a hospital, not an art school. Tension builds, and so do the incessant earthquakes which keep shaking the buildings.

As for the girl herself, she walks around as if in a drugged stupor, complaining she cannot sleep, not able to remember exactly what it is she should be doing. Why is she there? What happened to her? How did she get her physical and mental wounds? And more importantly, what will happen once she remembers?

Fans of Oshii Mamoru will by now have recognized several of his favorite tropes, and will recognize many more once they see the film. The secretive female protagonist, the unreliable perception of reality, ambivalence, the ever-present hints at Japan being involved in a war of sorts, critical views on complacency, damaged art, the eating of food... it's all here. I do not recall seeing a Basset hound; it probably is there, but in my opinion it is Oshii's least interesting signature so I may have forgotten about it.

Also there are a Tarkovskian slow pace and a kick-ass action scene, and the contrast between these may be Oshii's greatest achievement, his biggest rug-pull move since we saw the last game-level in Avalon. For after nearly seventy minutes of running on mystery vapor, Nowhere Girl suddenly treats its viewers to an incredibly brutal fight which could have come straight out of The Raid. We're talking tendon-slashing, bone-crushing, bayonet-to-bazooka-wielding level kind of violence here. It's very fast and shockingly furious.

The posters and virtually all pictures of the film point to this short-but-great sequence, and it is frankly mis-selling the film as an action spectacle, something it very much is not. At the festival, Nowhere Girl ended at the bottom end of the ratings, mimicking its IMDB score of just above six. Yet even most of the haters I spoke with praised the film's violent scenes, make of that what you will.

Once again, Oshii Mamoru has made a film which is mostly for himself, treading ground he has covered before in other (and sometimes better) films. But as his reality-addled puzzles go, this one is actually pretty straightforward, and not too hard to solve. Most fans of his work will probably be pleased. I sure was, and am very happy to have seen it in a cinema where it could get my full attention. It's a good thing I wasn't very tired when seeing it though, for if I had fallen asleep, I would have received a rude awakening indeed.

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Mamoru Oshii

More about Nowhere Girl

conbarbaApril 28, 2016 7:51 AM

Should be noted that this movie is a remake of short film directed by another guy (Kentaro Yamagishi) from Project Yamaken ( Here is the trailer:

Mikko KoivistoApril 28, 2016 8:06 AM

The film's first Japanese trailer didn't show any of the action footage, nor did Japanese theatrical advertising materials as far as I came across them. So, when I saw this in a theatre last summer I didn't know anything about the action finale and it took me by quite a surprise.

The film's second Japanese trailer, which I think came out a few weeks before the release, did show the action, but thankfully I had not seen it prior to the film. The poster featured in this review was later used as the Japanese dvd cover, but I never saw it in theatres. A different poster was used in theatres - at least where I saw the film.

I personally wouldn't give away the action ending without a spoiler warning, but it is a tricky situation because if you don't give it away, a lot of people will probably never discover the film.

Ard VijnApril 28, 2016 9:04 AM

Hey thanks, I didn't know that!

conbarbaApril 28, 2016 9:08 AM

Welcome. Also you can find the short film on the dvd release of the feature film.

Ard VijnApril 28, 2016 9:15 AM

Agreed, it was a tricky question of whether or not to reveal there's an action scene in it at all.

But outside of Japan, we only got the second wave of adverts, and the hype about that scene. Anyone with even a remote interest in the film is bound to first see Nana Seino's bloodied face, and hear it's a drama afterwards.

Ard VijnApril 28, 2016 9:16 AM

Hope that travels West (or East) soon...

ZetobeltApril 28, 2016 12:43 PM

Wow. I want it... right now!

ZetobeltApril 28, 2016 12:56 PM

A new option to portrait Ryuko Matoi? :-)

Ard VijnApril 28, 2016 1:36 PM

Definitely, if she can look pissed off enough. ;-)

SepulchraveApril 28, 2016 6:04 PM

"...the man is rightfully legendary for his action scenes, which are often iconic, and have been endlessly copied worldwide."

Really? I'd be interested in some examples if somebody could provide some.

Ard VijnApril 28, 2016 8:56 PM

Blimey, just about any scene with major Kusanagi in the original 1995 GHOST IN THE SHELL has been used over and over again, in look and choreography, to the point where people who now see that film for the first time wonder what the hype was.

And I'd add the first nine minutes of AVALON to that list.

SepulchraveApril 28, 2016 9:13 PM

I think I have AVALON sitting in my netflix queue. Guess it's time to finally watch it.