Haruko’s Paranormal Laboratory (Review)
Haruko’s Paranormal Laboratory
aka 春子超常現象研究所 aka Haruko Chojo Gensho Kenkyujo
Written and directed by Lisa Takeba
Fun time Japanese films are a bread and butter of TarsTarkas.NET, so of course we’re gonna check out a film about a girl who marries her tv. As a bonus, we got a wonderful film with a lot to say about entertainment culture and consumerism, much of which is as relevant in the US as it is to the Japanese audience. Also there are UFOs, random commercials, sideshow entertainers battling it out, and random cosplayers to spice things up!
Haruko is a young Japanese lady who spends her days alone in her apartment depressed and wishing for something paranormal to happen. Her early life had her interested in adventures, but thanks to a trauma involving spying her teacher father kissing a schoolgirl while out trying to hunt UFOs, she has abandoned her passion for the paranormal and just works a dreary job, watches tv, and makes tea stain art that she tries to sell on the street.
All of this changes one day when her ancient tv transforms into a real person! Well, a real person with a tv for a head, because he is a television brought to life. So much so that he’s called Terebi instead of getting a real name, and Haruko is harassed into paying tv licensing fees for him. Terebi is a young stud, and soon he and Haruko are lovers, but soon Terebi becomes unsatisfied with a homebody life (thanks in part to some harassment by children) and sets out to get a job, eventually becoming a successful television personality. This new lifestyle causes some friction, along with suppressed memories of a former life, Haruko’s desperate housewife coworker, and a perverted neighbor.
Things soon break down thanks to the memories and a plot twist I won’t reveal, but it soon involves Terebi on the run, abandoning Haruko to find himself. This causes Haruko to have her own sort of breakdown and reflection on her life, while around the globe more appliances begin to come to life and wander around cities. Haruko is soon inspired to go in search of her beloved Terebi, who by this time is working at a circus freakshow for an owner who isn’t keen on giving him up.
Lisa Takeba’s sophomore feature is an amazing mishmash of random gags and non sequiturs that form around a cohesive plot that is a love story while also dealing with the influences of television and media on society and the lives of media stars. That sounds like the kind of film that just shouldn’t come together, but it does so with only a few hitches.
The film manages to cross cultures, and while I can only speak of the American side with any authority, what is said fits right in. Haruko lives in a tiny apartment with a dead end job, her passion seems to be her tea stain art, but no one is really buying it. She fits perfectly with the large amount of young people who work jobs they’d rather not be doing (if they even can find jobs) while throwing their passions into projects into creating art. Terebi is mocked for being a freeloader off of Haruko when he doesn’t have a job, and despite being successful when he does land a good position, he instead desires to find himself more than just being a media persona. Haruko seemed perfectly fine with taking care of him, but Terebi wanted to be a fully realized person and not a sort of pet freak who just hangs out at home all day. Haruko comes to terms with her family history while searching for the television she loves.
My only real gripe is I caught the screening at the new SF Alamo, which meant that occasionally I missed subtitles because waiters were in the way. So no more subtitled films at the Alamo, even though the rest of the theater experience is great there. This was my inaugural experience at an Alamo theater, after hearing about them for years first from the Austin film scene and then their slowly expanding reach across the country. As you will soon see, it isn’t the last, even with the earlier complaint.
Aside from all that, Haruko’s Paranormal Laboratory is a fun experience with the type of seriously delivered fun weirdness that has deeper meanings that better Japanese cinema keeps giving us. It’s perfect for the type of person who reads TarsTarkas.NET, someone wanting to see something different, cool, and entertaining that doesn’t require the turning off of your mind to go along with the ride.
Rated 7/10 (producer, freak fight, actual magician, father, pervert, pervert drawing, dapper camcorder)
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