Fantasia 2019 Review: CHIWAWA Warms Up An Old Formula With Mediocre Results
A tale as old as time, director Ninomiya Ken attempts to revitalize the story of a woman driven into the arms of madness in the search for acceptance in Chiwawa, his follow up to the festival hit, The Limit of Sleeping Beauty. Fantasia 2019 sees the North American premiere of Ninomiya's fourth feature, a look into a modern search for notoriety gone horribly awry, an adaptation of a manga of the same subject, Chiwawa serves as a cautionary tale for millennials in search of transitory fame in this era of fleeting viral celebrity.
A dismembered body found in Tokyo Bay turns out to be that of Chiwaki Yoshiko (Yoshira Shiori), a flighty young woman with dreams and a heart as big as the biggest city in the world, itself. Known to her friends as Chiwawa, a diminutive she gave herself in reference to her small size (chihuahua), this girl wants nothing more than to love and be loved, but her soft heart leads her down some dark roads on the way to acceptance.
The discovery of Chiwawa's remains shines a light on the frivolous youth she hung out with, sending journalists their way to try and uncover the mystery around this girl. Strangely, though, none of her friends really seemed to know much about her, and piece by piece, the story of her rise to notoriety and tragic downfall come together as each of her acquaintances puts their cards on the table, eventually creating a picture of a woman in distress, searching for happiness in the arms of others.
Ninomiya Ken resurrects a familiar story structure to tell this modern tale of lost youth in Chiwawa with little to add to the equation apart from a few bits and bobs of technological jargon and modern inconveniences. The idea of a story told in reverse, with the discovery of a body prompting a complete reappraisal of a life lived in mystery isn't exactly new.
A little over a decade ago, Nakashima Tetsuya blew us away with the candy colored tragedy of Memories of Matsuko, a film predicated on similar subject matter, and it isn't too far a bridge to cross to connect Chiwawa with Citizen Kane, another story told from similar perspectives. With those two examples of similar storytelling methods coming to mind immediately, it's no surprise that Chiwawa comes up short when it comes to originality. Thankfully, director Ninomiya brings some originality to the presentation of the story to help distract from the familiarity of the tale.
Dropping Chiwawa into the middle of the modern generation's desperate need to validation via social media, Ninomiya translates these ageless tales for a more contemporary audiences. The story of Chiwawa and her friends, many of whom only realize how little they knew of her upon being questioned about her life, into a modern club-kid reality in which you're only as valuable as your last viral post re-contextualizes this familiar story for a contemporary audience.
It that enough to recommend Chiwawa for films fans approaching middle age - like your author - who've seen this story told a million times over? Perhaps not on its own, however Ninomiya's style and filmmaking skill is intriguing enough to warrant a viewing for those interested in what ancient tales look like told through a modern lens. I wish I liked Chiwawa more, the hyperactive nightclub visuals are appealing, but without an original story to tell it left me a bit cold. Better luck next time, this old fart has seen it done better.
- Ken Ninomiya
- Ken Ninomiya (screenplay)
- Kyôko Okazaki (manga)
- Tadanobu Asano
- Kotone Furukawa
- Mugi Kadowaki
- Taikô Katôno