Haruko’s Paranormal Laboratory
春子超常現象研究所「 Haruko Chojo Gensho Kenkyujo」
Release Date: December 05th, 2015
Duration: 73 mins.
Director: Lisa Takeba
Writer: Lisa Takeba (Screenplay),
Starring: Aoi Nakamura, Moeka Nozaki, Fumiyo Kohinata, Sayaka Aoki, Takumi Saito, Yumiko Takahashi,
The spirit of love and youth animates everything in Lisa Takeba’s sophomore feature. With the imagination and energy of a high schooler drunk with love for B-movies, she showers the screen with handmade sets, head-spinning moments of romance, and characters set up to accentuate the giddy energy of love as Takeba crafts a colourful, creative and offbeat tale of a maladjusted girl finding romance with a TV in a film that doesn’t belabour but parodies and placates the existential angst living creatures feel as they seek a place in the world.
The story begins with Haruko (Moeka Nozaki), a loner with a passion for the paranormal, something she has longed to encounter since childhood when she sought out an alien abduction to free her of her high school days which were fraught with betrayal and bullying. Her only company at home is her television, an old analogue set from the 1950 which, one day, transforms into a man (Aoi Nakamura) with a TV-shaped head. Haruko names him Terebi and soon falls in love with him. Their path to true love proves to be rocky and the two have to work through issues, Haruko’s being a hatred of other people and Terebi’s being an existential crisis brought on by the fact he was once an inanimate object and not human (so what are feelings and aree his real or something he learned from a TV show!?!?!).
Their travails proceed along with a fizz-bang bop of a step as the two leads get involved with many mischievous characters in misadventures – an arsonist and a “small-change” robber who steals coins, a militant NHK fee collector, cosplayers romping through forests and rampaging through scenes. While this is going on, Terebi seeks his humanity in the company of horny housewives and a freakshow circus, where the acts have psycho powers, in an effort trying to deprogram himself from years of learned behaviour from serial soap operas he has broadcast since 1953. This leads to nice comedic digressions as some cause him a degree of multiple personality disorder while Haruko undergoes her own transformations and crashes against the outer-worldly. What unites everyone is a yearning for a place in the world and, yes, love.
The film simultaneously inhabits the realms of the absurd and romantic and attempts to cultivate an admiration for its characters in the audience who watch these individuals strive for a human connection that embeds them somewhere, their every action crying out for love. It is a feeling that will touch the hearts of audiences.
This story is delivered in a luminous trace of pop-culture and Takeba thinks nothing of throwing together ideas that are seemingly counterintuitive and outre to placate what feels like an almost insatiable desire for love. Each character fights for what they believe in, quite literally, in this flick! The acting is at operatic levels and the tone is set at silly but tongues are clearly and firmly in cheeks so this film is like a good-natured avant-garde romantic Rimbaldian hippy indulging in a revelry with modern mythological transfiguration to make things surreal and the conclusion is satisfying as normality is established but hints that the fantastical is always a possibility. We’d all like to live in a world with that opportunity.
In Lisa Takeba’s world, love is everything. It can overcome emotional trauma, death and aliens. The hope to find a special one and make a family is the beating heart of every weird and wacky character, each of whom gets to go on misadventures in Takeba’s movies. Wowed with and loving her film The Pinkie, I leapt on to this one she released a year later and discovered, much to my delight, she continued being consistently silly, imaginative, inventive and free in ways her more staid, serious and august colleagues fail to be. Haruko’s Paranormal Laboratory is a charming slice of love-fiction that leaps and bounds, nymph-like, between people seeking warmth and is widely enjoyable.