If you Like Foreign + Arthouse, Give it a Go
A hot mess, just like the inside of a kid’s inexperienced, not-fully matured brain. There’s an interesting story somewhere in this Japanese dramatic film but if you need your movies to be blockbuster or easy-to-follow, Hot Gimmick may not be your bag.
If you enjoy an art-house piece now and again or have ever flicked through a comic book, you may enjoy this story. Plot twist is central in this example of art imitating life.
Hot Gimmick feels like a much bigger story compressed into a small space – just like its cramped, waffle-like apartment block setting. It’s a hard choice, squeezing a longer chronicle into a more compact movie length. Originally published as a 12-volume manga, any remake would be tough. Twilight was similar – I enjoyed the film because I loved the book. But having re-watched a few years later, it seemed a little lost with more inference than story.
So, I get it. They’re trying to satisfy both a new and initiated audience with the same piece. Whether this will work for everyone, is another matter.
All the teenage characters have something going on upstairs leading them to make what feels like random choices. Remember what that was like? Getting so in your own head. It’s a bit like that in isolation, no? Maybe that’s why this story and all its weird flashes of seemingly arbitrary images made sense. Treeing straight up into adolescents’ sense of right and wrong and ability to justify his or her actions.
This is – of course – a drama, so a little beyond the day-to-day. There’s an array of sins on display here: bullying, a spiked drink, more bullying and parental affairs to name a few.
It’s also worth mentioning that the write up on Netflix is slightly misleading. Yes, a girl gets ‘forced’ into servitude. Maybe that’s a bigger piece in the original story, but let’s focus on what we’ve got.
On screen, that’s not really what’s happening – it’s a device to get attention, much like the classic pulling of pigtails. Ryoki, the pigtail perpetrator, as well as three others all seem to have a crush in common – a girl who can’t understand what anyone would see in her. Something I couldn’t quite figure out initially either. Possibly part of her appeal, Hatsumi appears to be more naïve – translated as ‘cute’ – than her cynical counterparts.
Personal development aside, it struck me that so few adults have a place in this story, even though the devastating secret is an affair between two characters’ parents. There’s very little supervision in school or home and an extraordinary amount of opportunities for teen sex. It imparts Hatsumi the responsibility to figure things out on her own. And in the end, after a couple of wrong turns, she does seem to find her own heart.
The title itself had me conjecturing. Every character has something to hide, protect or at least test in a sleight-of-hand way; something that feels so big to each that it has to be hidden. Certainly, some are better at it than others.
Hatsumi may be confused, but she seems to be the only one who doesn’t act out of malice or pain. A side character, Rina, tells her – and this felt like the most important line: ‘You don’t understand how people of unfortunate circumstances feel, do you? We cheer each other on as if we’re a real family, just to reach the starting line of a normal person. You’re very blessed, Miss Hatsumi. You were raised by a decent mother and father and preciously loved. It tends to be people like that who don’t understand how others feel.’ Pretty powerful stuff.
There are a few scenes that screamed art-house a little too loudly though – like the exquisite spilling and smearing of hot chocolate. And the symbolic flashes of water – presumably the Tama River – that never seem to connect to the story but perhaps stand as metaphor for emotions.
The filming itself is intriguing though. There were more than a few moments where I genuinely wasn’t sure what was happening. I wondered whether I’d missed signals that the average viewer in Japan would pick up. Then I thought, well, it’s meant to convey a mood – and it certainly did. I found myself leaning in toward the screen, trying to work out what was happening; literally pulling me in.
While I would not call this feel-good, I did enjoy glimpsing a slice of dramatized Japanese school life. And watching Hatsumi and the gang figure things out of course. Having not read the Manga myself, I may just have to give that a go after watching this intriguing but polarizing art-house piece.