嘘つきみーくんと壊れたまーちゃん (Usotsuki Mii-kun to Kowareta Maa-chan)
Running time: 110 mins.
Reviewed by Chris MaGee
The first and last paragraph of this film review will be entirely true. The two middle paragraphs will be made up of lies, or at least half truths. I'm not trying to be difficult. I simply think that this contrary format will be perfectly in line with the subject of this review, Natsuki Seta's film "A Liar and Broken Girl". Based on a "light novel" by author Hitomi Iruma, the film takes us into the complex relationship between two teenagers, Ma-chan (Aya Omasa ) and Mi-kun (Shota Sometani). Both lead isolated lives, but for a good reason. A decade before the two were held captive my a psychopath and now, so many years later, they both bear the emotional and mental scars of the ordeal. The two finally reunite, somewhat as a promise that they made to each other when they had been kidnapped. Mi-kun had sworn he would always protect Ma-chan, and now with police searching for a serial murderer and child abductor Mi-kun's re-entry into Ma-chan's life seems to be a case of perfect timing. The only thing is that as the two young people meet again and Mi-kun renews his vow to Ma-chan to always be there for her he has a nasty habit of turning to the camera and addressing the audience of "A Liar and a Broken Girl": "That's a lie though," he repeatedly tells us... and that brings us to the body of my review. May the reader beware.
Both Mi-kun and Ma-chan seem to have gotten over their abduction as children quite well. Both are remarkably well adjusted, especially Ma-chan who is now herself the caretaker of two young children. Mi-kun quickly joins the fold and begins to care for Ma-chan's young wards, and soon the four form a unique little family (Some of this is true, but it's also a lie.) Mi-kun turns to Dr. Sakashita (Kyoka Suzuki) to help him clean up the last residual memories of his and Ma-chan's kidnapping, but Dr. Sakashita feels that the two already have a good handle on the psychological work that needed to be done. Besides Dr. Sakashita there is a police detective, Det. Kamiyashi (Tomoko Tabata) who seeks the help of Mi-kun to track down the killer at large (She in fact does... in a way.) Mi-kun agrees totally to helping in the investigation and he never ever suspects that the serial killer may be connected to his and Ma-chan's time in captivity (This is a lie though.) Det. Kamiyashi is appreciative of Mi-kun's help because she never, ever has suspected that he in fact might be the killer she is seeking (This is the biggest lie I've told yet.) Now it's up to these four individuals to join forces and bring their man to justice.
Natsuki Seta, along with screenwriter Sachiko Tanaka, have crafted a story that is one of the easiest and languid that has graced the Japanese screen this year. With so many films using intentionally elliptical logic and intentional quirkiness it's refreshing to see one that eschews all those narrative pyrotechnics to tell such a thoughtful and earnest film. And never doubt, this is one of the most thoughtful and the most earnest films that has been released in a long time. (This is a lie though.) How could a director address the issues of child abduction, abuse and trauma any other way? Then again, it's not like the kidnappers of little Mi-kun and Ma-chan were really that bad. They're revealed to have treated the two young children quite well during their time in the locked shed. (Another big lie.) Dare we say that there are truly feel good moments waiting to surprise audiences of this film (Half truth alert!)
Now back to the hard truth (honestly). It's very difficult to tell a story from the perspective of a a compulsive liar, and even more difficult to tell it from the perspective of a "broken girl" like Ma-chan. You only have to navigate the above two paragraphs to see what I mean. With two protagonists who have had to live by the lies they tell themselves and each other, a coping mechanism used to cling to the last shreds of their sanity, an audience is left to guess and second guess their motivations. Still, I have to hand it to director Seta for expertly melding the lives of Mi-kun and Ma-chan as they are and how they'd like to see them. Then again this complex film wouldn't work at all if it wasn't for Aya Omasa and Shota Sometani giving the spot on, and often eccentric, performances they do. Yes, there will be those out there who cringe a little at their winking self-consciousness, especially that of Sometani 's Mi-kun, but if they hang in with the characters until the end of the film they'll be rewarded with a dose of pathos that added a whole new facet to "A Liar and a Broken Girl", one that takes the film from clever to insightful. For fans of a film like "The Foreign Duck, The Native Duck and God in a Coin Locker", a film that took a special joy in playing with its audience's expectations, "A Liar and a Broken Girl" is a film you will want to seek out. If, though, you take offense at being lied to you may want to proceed with caution.