Rotterdam 2015 Review: HARUKO'S PARANORMAL LABORATORY Drowns In Quirk

Editor, Europe; Rotterdam, The Netherlands (@ardvark23)
Rotterdam 2015 Review: HARUKO'S PARANORMAL LABORATORY Drowns In Quirk
(I'll never yell at my television again, lest it suddenly changes into an attractive member of the opposite sex... hey, wait-a-minute!)

Last year, Japanese director Lisa Takeba presented her first feature film The Pinkie at the International Film Festival Rotterdam as a World Premiere. It was an incredibly quirky, absurd and energetic little genre-bending sci-fi rom-com which I liked a lot.
This year she was back in Rotterdam, and she brought her second film, again as a World Premiere: a slightly longer "incredibly quirky, absurd and energetic little genre-bending sci-fi rom-com", called Haruko's Paranormal Laboratory.

This new film tells the story of Haruko, who has been bullied all her life for being an outsider, always wishing something strange and interesting would happen to her. She vents her frustration by yelling at her incredibly old television, not knowing the thing actually has a secret counting device inside, which clicks up at each curse. When the counter hits 10,000, the television suddenly changes into a humanoid who starts to yell back at Haruko.

After this abrupt change in their relationship, Haruko and her television start to develop feelings for each other, and try to build up a life together. With success at first: being a multi-talented man capable of speaking a dozen languages, the television even lands himself a job at a studio, and becomes a national celebrity. But is he really the strange and interesting thing Haruko has been waiting for all her life?

As you can tell from this synopsis, Lisa Takeba's second film is just as bizarre as her first. Events take place in a kind of fantasy universe, where people do not even bat an eyelid when seeing a talking television, where the channel license fee collectors are superhumanly tenacious, and where the most popular girl band is KKK-47 (whose members are forbidden to date boys, and wear white pointed hoods).

The story in Haruko's Paranormal Laboratory is a flimsy construction, used to carry a wide variety of jokes: sight gags, word puns, slapstick, gross-out, parody, and satire are all represented here. Many of these jabs land, many of these don't. Everything is thrown at the viewer with the hope to see much of it stick, and it's a strategy with advantages and dis-advantages.

On the upside, Lisa Takeba seems to know no limits. The jokes get surprisingly gross, sexy or even lewd at times, and their variety gives the film an off-kilter quirky feeling in which everything is possible. It helps that the film looks good and colorful too, with its art direction seemingly inspired by over-saturated exploding candy stores.

On the downside, the overdose of quirk makes it hard to feel for the main characters, who often act strange towards each other without a noticeable reason or a pay-off.

All in all it makes Haruko's Paranormal Laboratory a strange, even alienating film, amusing but hard to easily recommend. Be that as it may, Rotterdam audiences awarded the film a 3.5 out of 5, and that means a fun time was had by most.

Haruko's Paranormal Laboratory

  • Lisa Takeba
  • Lisa Takeba (screenplay)
  • Sayaka Aoki
  • Tetsuhiro Ikeda
  • Fumiyo Kohinata
  • Aoi Nakamura

The Pinkie

  • Lisa Takeba
  • Lisa Takeba
  • Reon Kadena
  • Takashi Nishina
  • Ryôta Ozawa
  • Tokitoshi Shiota
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Lisa TakebaSayaka AokiTetsuhiro IkedaFumiyo KohinataAoi NakamuraComedyReon KadenaTakashi NishinaRyôta OzawaTokitoshi ShiotaActionDrama

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