A long and slow but heartfelt story about connection
Call Me Chihiro is a heartfelt movie about connection and loneliness, accompanied by serene visuals and soothing music. But it runs far longer than necessary and Chihiro, the protagonist and soul of the film, lacks a bit of a punch.
Based on a manga, the movie follows the life of Chihiro, a former sex worker who is now working at a bento shop in a small seaside town. The story of the film meanders along with Chihiro, exploring the town’s different residents and making connections.
Call Me Chihiro is a gorgeous study in slice-of-life filmmaking. The cinematography highlights the everyday-life nature of the story through mesmerizing shots of the sea, the town’s public spaces, and even clothes flapping in the wind. Most of the scenes involve the characters doing nothing more exciting than eating or talking. Food and meals play a significant role. It makes the small town seem like an idyllic paradise, where time moves slowly and at the end of the day, peace prevails. But the downfall is that time in this world moves a little too slowly. The shots don’t just linger; they are drawn out across the seconds until you’re waiting for the next scene to get here already.
The connections Chihiro makes are the core of the story. A central idea Chihiro mentions is that people are really aliens put inside human bodies, each from a different planet. But every once in a while you come across someone who is from the same planet as you. It’s messages like this one — intensely relatable takes on today’s society — that stay with you long after the movie is over.
Some of the people she comes across are an old, homeless man with whom she shares a few meals, two schoolgirls named Okaji and Betchin, each of whom has issues with their families, and a small boy named Makoto who is being raised by a working mom. There’s also Chihiro’s old friend Basil and her former employer Utsumi as well as the owner of the bento shop and his wife Tae.
It’s truly heartwarming to see Chihiro approach these people with kindness and joy and to watch them open up to her. Not only does she seem to bring out the best in everybody but she also brings them closer to each other, forming a little community by the end of the film. Kasumi Arimura performance as Chihiro is polished and subtle. She melds the elements of a tough past and a compassionate character with ease, it never comes across as too dramatic.
For all its focus on daily life though, Call Me Chihiro does end up stumbling into the manic pixie dream girl trope. Chihiro starts off as an ordinary cheerful girl but goes on to become a mysterious soul drowning in loneliness. Chihiro is very much surrounded by good, caring people who seem to like and love her in a number of ways. But she only gives and never receives. She helps others but doesn’t foster connection with herself. What’s grating is that we don’t really know why. While there are hints of a troubled past and a toxic mother, we never get a full explanation.
This is a shame because it makes a lot of these wonderfully wholesome relationships come across as a bit one-sided. Worse, it makes Chihiro a bit of a utopian character and like so many manic pixie dream girls, serving others and opening them up to the joys of life but not herself. Personally, I would have enjoyed the film more if Chihiro had felt less mysterious and more realistic. Although, the subtlety of the movie and its reliance on interpretation might lead other viewers to see her in a different light. In the end, the enigma of Chihiro becomes a more stylistic choice than a narrative one.
Read More: Call Me Chihiro Ending Explained
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Verdict - 7/10