English Title: Maboroshi
Japanese Title: アリスとテレスのまぼろし工場 [lit. Alice and Therese’s Illusory Factory]
Director(s): Okada Mari & Kidokoro Seimei
Writer(s): Okada Mari
Runtime: 1h 50m
Starring: Enoki Junya, Ueda Reina
My Verdict: Fantasy coming-of-age drama set in a town that is stuck in time. Unfocused and under-developed. But looks very good. Worth viewing.
● Kikuiri Masamune is a 14-year-old high school student living in a town that is “frozen” in time, specifically in the winter of 1991. This was triggered by an explosion at the town’s steel factory. Since then, the sky cracks and smoke in the form of wolves emanate from the factory to presumably stop these cracks. Also, no one in the town is able to leave. Sagami Mamoru, the town’s de facto priest, says that this is due to the local deity in the mountain under the steel factory being disrespected.
● One day, Masamune is dragged along by Sagami Mutsumi, a girl in his class who he doesn’t like (and step-daughter of Mamoru), to meet a young girl kept at the factory. This girl looks like Mutsumi but who she is and why she is there is a mystery. The plot follows Masamune and Mutsumi and their family and friends as they struggle being stuck in time and place.
● This work, in part, has the feel of a Shinkai film, a fantasy premise in a real setting with slice of life involving themes of relationships and growing up, amongst other things.
● This film is thankfully not Groundhog Day (1993) as there are way too many clones. And despite the odd state that the town is in, it is fantasy in a real-life setting, not horror like Stephen King’s novella The Langoliers (1990).
● The strength of this work is that the art generally looks very good, particularly the rural town and the environment. The characters are fine but they can be a bit cleaner. The smoke animation can also be a better match to the backgrounds. But overall, it is brilliant.
● The voice acting of the entire cast and the sound editing are both solid too.
● The story has a lot of elements and most of these are introduced early, which is a good thing. However, as the plot progresses, there is insufficient exposition on what is going on and why, particularly regarding the town’s situation. Much can be inferred but the lack of clarity is dissatisfying.
● The same applies to the characters as some of their actions (or lack thereof) and motivations are insufficiently clear. It is true the setting is deliberately static—the characters exist but don’t really live and change, the old don’t die and the young don’t become adults—and personal growth is obviously a theme but this is not developed very well. Perhaps the writer does not want to push it too much and, initially, this is executed well enough. But then it is handled clumsily as the film progresses.
● An interesting sidebar is whether the writer is criticizing lockdowns. Thankfully, the events portrayed are very different from the plandemic; after all, if the situation is too recognizable, the work will fail to draw in the audience.
● Overall, although the film is initially intriguing, both the plot and themes are unfocused. And this includes the conclusion—that is the place to explain everything if nowhere else and it doesn’t. This may be in part deliberate to avoid being too in-your-face, but if it is trying to be subtle and cerebral, then it doesn’t achieve that either. This is also reflected in the title as it reveals too much but is also simultaneously inaccurate or disconnected from the story; there is no clear reference to Alice or Therese and the “illusory” nature of the world is… well, insufficiently clear.
● On balance, it is a film I want to like more but find it difficult to. Despite all the problems, the film looks good and is worth viewing at least once.
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