John Williams is a Briton making films in Japan. This is his third feature but it borrows so extensively from David Lynch and Haruki Murakami that it lacks a heart of its own.
Yuichi Arisu (Koichi Sato) is a salary man leading a bland existence with Chisato (Tae Kimura) his beautiful wife who finds him distant. His only joy is in the supernatural mystery novels of Jo Kuroda (Kazuyoshi Kushida) which are set in Darkland, a mysterious alternate universe. A series of coincidences turn Arisu’s life upside down; he meets a psychologically disturbed chap in rabbit costume named Mr. Trickster (Akira Emoto), Chisato disappears and, when he falls asleep on the underground, he finds himself in conversation with Kuroda who wants him to tell his story, a story of an affair with a beautiful and mysterious woman named Kayako (KIKI) which begins at the eponymous Starfish Hotel. As the story is revealed and he searches for Chisato, Arisu‘s reality, memories and nightmares begin to mix.
If you are a fan of Haruki Murakami you can play spot the reference. A disappearing wife comes from The Windup Bird Chronicle. The mysterious hotel, alternate reality and weird animal-men can be found Dance, Dance, Dance. Throw in Alice in Wonderland and Lynchian alternate realities and you have a film beholden to its source material.
The film’s familiar story ransacks the personal life of Arisu. Prior to his wife’s disappearance he is living an existential nightmare as a simple office drone who takes refuge in different masks to avoid authenticity and responsibility for his actions. His life and his surroundings are sterile while he plays loyal salary-man.