Rikiya Imaizumi stretches the concept of Help Wanted in his adaptation of Hiroyuki Yasuda manga.
“They say people are all the same. But the truth is we’re all from different planets. No wonder we can’t understand each other.”
Chihiro (Kasumi Arimura) is a free spirited young woman who left her job in the sex industry and now works in a bento shop in an idyllic coastal town. Her upbeat personality and attitude make her popular with everyone, including the shop owner (Toshie Negishi) and his wife Tae (Jun Fubuki) who is losing her sight. Chihiro befriends Okaji (Hana Toyoshima), an awkward schoolgirl who is in awe of Chihiro, and latchkey kid Matoko (Tetta Shimada), as well as the many people who come into town – notably former coworker Basil (Van) and her old boss Utsumi (an always welcome Lily Franky).
Imaizumi’s film, based on the manga by Hiroyuki Yasuda, doesn’t offer all that much in terms of story. The slice-of-life nature betrays its nature as a film that likely won’t follow anything resembling a three acts. It’s more like a dozen different vignettes that intersect to paint a canvas of modern life in a sleepy town. This is an approach that works more than it doesn’t, thanks largely in part to some skilful direction and a highly talented cast. Kasumi Arimura is especially worth noting, and carries each scene with a charming smile and a highly engaging personality.
I haven’t seen any of Rikiya Imaizumi’s previous films, despite his absurdly high output of twenty films over the past thirteen years but Call Me Chihiro seems very much up his alley. Manga adaptations and romantic dramas appear to be his forte, and in this film we see those years of experience in capturing human emotion on screen.
Call Me Chihiro touches on a lot of topics – sex, love, friendships, growing up, feeling lost, and finding trust in others – but never pretends it has any of the answers. Never getting too deep into these topics, it instead presents a realistic portrayal of how people deal with these problems. This purposeful lack of depth ironically bestows layers upon the characters, who have to address their own problems by themselves with no greater power to help them out. In real life, we don’t have the answers after all – people just talk a lot of shit, and hope we can figure it out as we go. It’s strikingly philosophical in that sense.
That said, the film’s runtime and occasional muddied focus means that it can at times feel like it’s gone on for way too long – especially considering twenty minutes can easily go by without one or two of the main characters appearing. In that vein, it’s the sort of film I’d have dozed off to in the cinema, but not in a bad way necessarily. There’s just something very … peaceful about it. Even during its dramatic moments, there’s a stillness lent to it by its serene setting and likeable characters. It might go on a while, but it’s never stressful.
Call Me Chihiro is a slice of life drama that takes the scenic route to its conclusion, but even then the destination doesn’t even matter. For Chihiro, and the audience, there aren’t endings: just new beginnings. Chihiro’s life might not be anything like ours, but the story beats hers hits will feel familiar to anyone who’s drifted a lot in life. Imaizumi’s film is like its heroine, it breezes in and out without much fanfare, but hopes to provide a bit of friendly comfort while it’s here.
Verdict: Call Me Chihiro might take its time getting anywhere but it skilfully turns that into a relaxing, peaceful experience
Overall entertainment: 7/10
Sex: The most stilted lovemaking you’ve ever seen
Chihiro’s past: Oddly not as big a deal as I would have imagined
How to judge a character: How much love they put into eating bento
Director: Rikiya Imaizumi
Writer: Hiroyuki Yasuda (manga), Kaori Sawai, Rikiya Imaizumi
Kasumi Arimura – Chihiro
Hana Toyoshima – Okaji
Tetta Shimada – Makoto
Van – Basil
Ryuya Wakaba – Taniguchi
Yui Sakuma – Hitomi
Itsuki Nagasawa – Betchan
Miwako Ichikawa – Other Chihiro
Keiichi Suzuki – the Master
Toshie Negishi – Nagai
Mitsuru Hirata – Bito
Lily Franky – Utsumi
Jun Fubuki – Tae