Haruneko, the directorial debut of Hokimoto Sora, is a work of cinema as a phenomenological manifestation. Much like some of the works of Andrei Tarkovsky, the screen and the images that are projected on it feel less like objects of pure deliberation and more like starting points for subjective, experiential readings.
Haruneko presents us with a setting, characters and a concept. The setting is a café, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. The characters are the people who run and live in it, as well as the wandering souls that for one reason or another find themselves in it. The concept is death. The composition and stylization of the film, as well as its surrealist and Brechtian vibes, reveal the presence of an authorial voice. Yet, none of its ideas seem fully formed.
The film was described on the program of the 2017 International Film Festival Rotterdam as a “highly musical fever dream.” Much like a dream, the interpretation is subjective and also allegorical. Furthermore, Haruneko has its greater impact on the body, rather than the mind. The focal point of Hokimoto Sora’s film lies in the way in which the unraveling images, the emergence of sounds and diverse music affect the bodily experience. The feelings evoked go from the melancholic – the image of a young boy and a woman playing piano, magically transported in the middle of a field while playing a song – to the celebratory – a lively musical piece executed on a magic lantern stage.
In the midst of the atmosphere of Haruneko, any intellectual contextualization is almost a surplus. Which is why the appearance of a story, in the end, makes the vivid experimentation seem lifeless and lacking in confidence. The story of Haruneko disturbs, because it may clash with the progression of our subjective reading of the film. Top marks for art direction, the cinematography, and overall intention. The music, written by the director (who also wrote and edited the film) is also noteworthy. However, as a cinematic experimentation, it can’t help but disappoint. – ★★
HARUNEKO || 2016, Japan || Fantasy || Directed by – Hokimoto Sora / Written by – Hokimoto Sora / Produced by – Aoyama Shinji, Sento Takenori / Cinematography – Suzuki Yoi / Edited by – Hokimoto Sora / Music by – Hokimoto Sora / Starring – Yamamoto Keisuke, Kawase Yota, Akatsuka Minako, Lily, Tanaka Min, Iwata Ryuto, Takahashi Yo / Running time: 85 mins.