The Little Girl who Conquered
Director: Nobuhiko Obayashi
This is very much a teenage vehicle for the Japanese Idol Tomoyo Harada back
in 1983 and was to make her a huge singing/acting star during the 1980's.
She is still going today but is long past her Idol status but back when this
film was made she was as cute as a button on the back of a bumble bee. Just
adorable with her short schoolgirl haircut and infectious grin. The film
is based on a popular book from author Yasutaka Tsutsui and it was also made
into a well-known anime - and his novel Paprika was also made into an anime
directed by Satoshi Kon.
Much of the film develops at a very leisurely lyrical pace with little happening
but it takes us into the lives of three school friends - Yoshiyama (Tomoyo)
and her two male friends Fukamachi and Goro who have all turned sweet sixteen.
There is an unspoken adolescent romantic triangle that is bubbling right
below the surface but it is as innocent as a spring morning. The film just
calmly wanders through their lives and the small town they live in. It feels
like another time with the small shops, the friendly neighbors, narrow winding
streets, the school activities, caring family, afternoon chores and students
who bow politely to their teachers. All seems perfect.
But the poster of the Wizard of Oz on the wall above Yoshiyama's bed hints
that she is about to go on a fantastical journey. Small events begin to happen
to her - she faints in the lab classroom but the broken glass vanishes, her
clock is telling the wrong time, she begins to see things before they happen,
the smell of lavender lingers and finally she realizes one day that she has
already lived that day. One has to wonder if this is all simply symbolic
of a young girl going through puberty, feeling urges of sexuality, the speed
of growing up, the reluctance to change and bit by bit falling in love with
one of her two friends. Perhaps, but the film sort of jumps the tracks at
this point and gets really strange with awful cheesy special effects accompanying
the change in mood and style. It may be following the book but just doesn't
feel right. The very end saves it though. Near the end there is a small but
poignant scene of an elderly couple who have barely appeared in the film
talking about their loneliness that will never go away. It is a moment of
sadness that throws its shadow over everything that came before it.
The director is Nobuhiko Obayashi who has within the past few years received
some acclaim in the West after the DVD release of his 1977 horror film, House.
The song that Tomoyo sings during the closing credits is called Toki o Kakeru
Shōjo and was a big hit and quite catchy.