Last Thursday, we (Beckie and Stephanie) caught the Vancouver premiere of “Girl Sparks” at Pacific Cinémathèque. This comedy was part of a series of quirky films screened in the “Kibatsu Cinema” program that runs from June 7th to 28th, and since Ricepaper was a community sponsor of the film we thought it would be nice to take a break from all the mainstream movies out there and go watch an “indie film” instead. Besides, who can’t say no to complimentary tickets? Yay for free stuff :).
The plot synopsis on the Pacific Cinémathèque website is definitely misleading. Despite the fact that “schoolgirl Saeko’s cross-dressing, disciplinarian dad looks like he’s losing his factory to bankruptcy” and “she decides to bury her negative feelings for him, roll up her sleeves and help him out” (Seattle International Film Festival), none of this actually happens until the last fifteen minutes of the film. Rather, “Girl Sparks” focuses entirely on Saeko’s disgust at everyone around her as she tries to cope with the world and its perplexities. It’s absurdist comedy at it’s finest.
For us, the weakest part of the film is the first thirty minutes when we are introduced to the characters. There isn’t a clear sense of what is motivating Saeko’s father to cross-dress at home, why her high school teacher has a crush on her (we didn’t even realize this until she blurted it out later), and why everyone is constantly hitting each other for no apparent reason. The crude humour makes you laugh for sure, but it also leaves you feeling confused. Understandably, this is a coming-of-age film and it seems that director Yuya Ishii wanted to truthfully depict the world through the eyes of a teenage angst-ridden girl. But he tries too hard at times. The film’s absurdist elements unfortunately take away from the audience’s ability to understand the characters as real humans with emotions and inner ambitions.
Regardless of the one-dimensionality of most of the characters, the film redeems itself with a brilliantly executed comic catharsis. We sympathize with Saeko when she finally accomplishes making a perfect screw while working in her father’s factory and erupts into insane laughter upon realizing the futility of her task. It reminds us of moments in high school when everyone bitterly jokes about the ironies of life (actually to be honest, Saeko reminds us a lot of our sixteen-year-old selves). Perhaps the trajectory of the rockets she sees in the sky and wonders about symbolizes the trajectory of human life, destined for nowhere at all.
The film is about the fickleness of human emotions and the absurdity of life; yet the characters’ comedic moments exist for a reason. There is a wisdom in foolishness, glory in madness, and happiness in the “disgusting” parts of life that we too often reject as shameful and silly. Watching Saeko run away from her life and ultimately return wiser, you can’t help but feel that sometimes the foolish path is the road to happiness.
“Girl Sparks” is tender, emotionally complicated, mischievous, and funny. But it’s also bittersweet and subtly tragic. It’s for anyone who’s ever felt that the world is simultaneously amazing, crazy, and hopelessly cruel.
Stephanie’s rating: 7/10
Beckie’s rating: 7/10
If you saw “Girl Sparks” last week, we’d love to know what you thought about it. If not, we highly recommend that you go check out the other films in “Kibatsu Cinema”. It runs until the end of June, so there’s still time to buy tickets. They’ll likely challenge and inspire you to see the world in a different way. It’ll be worth it.
For more information, go to the Pacific Cinémathèque website here.
– Stephanie and Beckie (RP Interns)