Her Sketchbook 世界は今日から君のもの Dir: Masaya Ozaki (2017)

Her Sketchbook    Her Sketchbook Film Poster

世界は今日から君のもの  Sekai ha Kyou Kara Kimi no Mono

Release Date: June 15th, 2017

Duration: 106 mins.

Director: Masaya Ozaki

Writer: Masaya Ozaki (Script) 

Starring: Mugi Kadowaki, Takahiro Miura, Yu Hirukawa, Junpei Yasui, Ryusuke Komakine, Makita Sports, You, Takeaki Shima,

Website IMDB

Japan is a densely populated country and in order to survive living there it is important to make connections with others as well as finding your niche. Achieving both can be exhausting, especially for those who lack confidence and find themselves in schools and workplaces where fierce competition drives everything. With so much pressure many people drop out of society and become hikikomori or NEETs. Her Sketchbook dramatises this for a story about a young woman making incremental improvements to her life, usually at odds with those around her, to find her voice and integrate with the regular world.

The sophomore directorial effort of veteran screenwriter Masaya Ozaki, Her Sketchbook centres on the character of Mami Konuma (Mugi Kadowaki), an introverted twenty-something who tries to limit contact with others. Aside from her father Eisuke (Makita Sports) and a local boy she has known since her school days, she doesn’t often engage with many people. Flashbacks show she has been a person put-upon by others since she was a child and not given the confidence by her parents, her father too reticent and her hard-to-please mother (played by single-named actress YOU) too distant – so much so, she left the family.

Shy Mami has clearly been hurt by others and their lack of consideration for her which has resulted in struggling with being a hikikomori. Her chief defining feature, which she tries to hide, is that she is a fully-fledged otaku with a passion for drawing. Her worried father gets her a job debugging video games. It seems like a genius idea since it doesn’t require much interaction with other people but her drawings soon get her noticed in the company by a handsome production director named Ryotaro (Takahiro Miura) and his encouragement of her inspires all sorts of new feelings but it isn’t easy for the socially awkward girl as she continues to struggle to define her place in the wider world and find her voice.

The film’s atmosphere aims for feel good as the narrative generates some light workplace comedy, exults in Mami’s passion for art and her success, and teases romance but Masaya Ozaki resists going to obvious places as he places the emphasis on Mami’s search for the strength to express herself.

As we get involved with Mami’s day-to-day life we notice who dominates the dialogue and how people often speak for her, her opinionated mother and soft father alternately dismissing or praising her art without regard for what it means to her while Mami’s relationship with Ryotaro is shown to be based on her naivete and his need for an artist. Everybody but Mami talks and nobody really asks her what she wants. It seems every decision made was all for their convenience and from their point of view rather than with any regard for her. Although these characters are gently essayed and have a sense of humour, their relentlessness becomes suffocating and so we understand Mami’s reluctance to engage with others as well as her desire to escape and, through Mugi Kadowaki’s acting, we feel her struggle to resist and break free.

Mugi Kadowaki has emerged as a fine leading lady with a penchant for roles involving quiet characters whose facades hide murky emotions, whether as a young woman caught in an illicit and morally wrong affair in historical drama Hanagatami (2017) or a student in modern-day psycho-sexual tale Double Life (2016). She has range and having done musicals and acted as a party girl in murder-mystery Chiwawa (2019). Her Sketchbook is seemingly undemanding as Kadowaki plays an introverted, reticent character through stilted movement and hesitant speech and the inability to look people in the eye. It approaches being overly-mannered but stops just short. She still feels like a girl who lacks confidence even if we are aware of a certain theatricality.

Her movement provides grounds for comedic social faux pas and works on a thematic level because she has found the world difficult to navigate. Kadowaki’s aura allows us to feel her vulnerability, how she has allowed herself to be buffeted by the people around her and taken comfort in a solitary pursuit like art and so we root for her to find her independence and her own artistic voice even as others push her to go in different directions and thoughtlessly destroy her confidence. It tugs at the heartstrings when she faces her inner and professional crisis and we enjoy it when her hidden passion in her heart is unlocked by friends who genuinely care and prompt her to achieve more. The camera often rests on Kadowaki and tender emotions come out and the narrative succeeds in working. The one fly in the ointment is a misjudged rape joke which the film tries to play off for laughs. It serves no purpose, it is jarring and acts as a contradictory note in believability for the character who attempts it.

Other aspects are better. Using the real-life studio of game development company Mages, famous amongst otaku for visual novels Robotics;Note and Steins;Gate, and showing the environment and the games being played and the variety of people making them adds realism to the film and some subculture bonafides.

The music from Kenji Kawai is immediately identifiable as his, a lavish orchestral sound boosted by synths. One musical leitmotif really adds to the sentimentality of the film, a gentle and insistent piano-driven piece which gives a sense of immense talent hiding away in Mami just waiting to be found.

Overall, the film is cute but what makes it compelling is the performance of Mugi Kadowaki who captures a sense of naivete and hopefulness as well as uncertainty and fear. This gives the film its heart and soul as she seeks to express herself when all around her would dictate the direction of her life. Ozaki gives Mami an emotional journey that is not to dissimilar to Kiki, the titular witch from Studio Ghibli’s Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989) wherein a female breaks away from her family home to find her calling in life as well as her self-confidence free from the influence of others, only Her Sketchbook shows the real world magic of patience and gradually drawing people out of their shells.

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