Daigo Matsui’s latest bubble gum pop nightmare is thankfully a more restrained but no less creative effort from the director with a music video background. Comparable to the loose Wonderful World End, this relatively linear road-trip narrative is brought to life by the leads' strong personable performances of teenage melancholy and wonder.
Chie, Ichinose, Fumiko and Sattsun are four high school friends with a definitive goal; leave Fukuoka and travel all the way to Japan to see their favourite J-pop act Creephyp play live. With barely any money or plan, they set out across the ferry, then on bike towards the concert. Along the way the friends experience the familiar beats of road-trip cliché, they make up and break up and things happen along the way that hinder their progress. They meet interesting people and get involved in some unexpectedly adult things until it becomes clear that this journey is going to be far more difficult and life-affirming then they could ever realise.
The personas of the four girls shine as they trek to Tokyo, as does the stunning locations that inspire real-world travel. No stranger to handheld, Daigo keeps the film fresh and intimate by utilising the Handycam the girls are using to document their travel, as well as all the social media they constantly and naturally interact with. This is no detriment to the film's cinematography, which beautifully highlights some vistas and the diversity of each place they visit.
Our Huff and Puff Journey has a contemporary feel about it, and the film lets the audience be privy to the cultural and social complexities of teenage life in Japan today. The four girls who are driven by commercial pursuits and a shared obsession for a produced pop band undergo some drama before their trip ends and the supporting cast involved in these moments are just as naturalistic and impressive, playing off the manic energy and craziness of youth.
Further implications of the contemporary play out when they share their progress via social media; they are ridiculed and shamed for their crazy plan, resulting in an introspective analysis of what they are doing and why. This is a very different kind of bullying in the West, and the psychological impact weighs far heavier in Japan, a place of traditional conformity.
The girls are also mature enough to discuss sex and engage in some adult situations, a frankly refreshing and realistic depiction of how easily systems are in place for Japan to utilise youth for profit. This in no way brings the tone of the film down, and despite the drama the film remains imbued with positivity. The ultimate, slightly hollow concept of following your dreams and achieving anything you want is echoed in Our Huff and Puff Journey, but the film remains grounded, making it all the more accessible and relatable.
‘Life is a journey, not a destination’ and multiple other quotes that adhere to this way of thinking drive the premise of Our Huff and Puff Journey, a trope, but a very well executed one that highlights Japanese culture and the ambition and desire that is wonderfully portrayed on-screen.