Girl Returned 帰ってきた少女 Dir: Satoru Hirohara (2017) Osaka Asian Film Festival 2018

Girl Returned

帰ってきた少女 Kaette kita shoujo

Running Time: 44 mins.

Release Date: 2018

Director: Satoru Hirohara

Writer: Satoru Hirohara (Screenplay),

Starring: Reina Kikuchi, Masahiro Ezaki, Toru Kizu, Sakiko Takao, Michie Kita,

Website

Girl Returned” is built around a nightmare scenario – a child has been kidnapped. 15-year-old Misaki Fujino (Reina Kikuchi) was snatched by an average-looking guy while jogging and held imprisoned in his apartment for two years. Following her rescue by the police, she is allowed back to her home but the experience has left her not knowing what to do. Finally free from her kidnapper, she is now trapped in the role of a victim. The media wait outside the house for a story, her parents are trapped inside with the fear she will disappear again, and Misaki… all she does is wait for the time to pass and the scandal to die down.

IF04_GirlReturned

What to do? This is the grey area that the film explores and does so excellently and without an ounce of distasteful melodrama. This is a film about a girl readjusting to normality and her community readjusting to her presence. It is done through a neat bit of mirroring of events. As the crushing weight of normality bears down on her, Misaki sheds habits learned at her kidnapper’s place – out with the PlayStation game she constantly played, adopting a new hairstyle and venturing outside into the garden and so forth.

The real key to overcoming two years trapped in an apartment is jogging. This simple action becomes the gauntlet she must run to get back to herself.

Through showing Misaki’s simple actions of reclaiming everyday routines, and people’s reactions to her efforts, the film charts the gradual unwinding of tenseness felt by people as they shift back into normal life now that their girl has returned and how everyone is able to breathe deeply again.

The script ensures the community has a place in this process, the tenderness and understanding of friends and family proving important, especially that of her parents who lived through that trauma and show the strain of it, their love and their protectiveness revealed through their uneasy acquiescence to her desire to run – just look at the worried faces and jumps of alarm when she ventures outside and the gradual release as they let go of worries and let her jog.

As the lead character, Reina Kikuchi does a fine job of portraying a girl struggling with trauma, exhibiting listless behaviour and a zombie-gaze fixed on a PlayStation 2 game, tremulous movements when talking to men, and finally clutching on to her independence through the simple act of jogging. Everyone around her offers performances that breathe normality and help the atmosphere of the film.

Mise-en-scene is determinedly normal, the aesthetics glue the story to the everyday, and there is nothing distracting in terms of visuals. The pace is slow and everything is held together by controlled direction which emphasises the progress Misaki makes through mental and physical activity.

Exercise is a way of pushing the body to grow, to add muscle-mass, to increase the flow of blood to the heart and oxygen to the brain while strengthening bones and joints. This has the benefit of crafting a body that can protect oneself physically and also changes the way a person thinks because the activity deluges the system with endorphins and other hormones and chemicals that have a massive influence on the way they think. The added benefits of seeing physical obstacles overcome reinforces this. As Misaki exercises, she becomes stronger. Her world expands from one room to the outside world. 

The film shows the impact of the crime on the girl and her family and those who are connected to her and offers audiences a realistic and maybe hopeful resolution because life carries on and one must not be beaten down. Everyone goes through tough times but we must persevere which is what Misaki does. 

At the end of the film, what we see is a girl who has returned to her family, a girl returned to normal life, and, hopefully, a girl returned to herself.

Who knows how far she will go.

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