“Haruko’s Paranormal Laboratory” – 2015 Hong Kong Review

The characters of Haruko and Terebi (TV) in Takeba Lisa's "Haruko's Paranormal Laboratory." (still courtesy of the Hong Kong International Film Festival)
The characters of Haruko and Terebi (TV) in Takeba Lisa’s “Haruko’s Paranormal Laboratory.” (still courtesy of the Hong Kong International Film Festival)

Wrapped in packaging that resembles a mashup of Deee-Lite and Pizzicato Five music videos, “Haruko’s Paranormal Laboratory” (春子超常現象研究所) initially appears to be a zany fantastical adventure involving the title character’s obsession over her television set.  Beneath the psychedelic veneer, however, is a subtle acerbic jab at society’s dependence on technology, the dangers of one-way passive “communication,” and a cynical view of celebrity culture and art.

How Haruko (Moeka Nozaki) came to become so maladjusted is partially revealed through a flashback to her awkward high school past narrated by her mother, who states that it has long been her daughter’s wish to have a “paranormal experience.”  A decade later, Haruko has grown up but is none the wiser thanks to a world view restricted to her job at a laundromat and lazing around at home watching, and yelling at, some of the delightfully absurd programming on her old-school television set.  When that TV turns into a man (Aoi Nakamura), the two fall in love and continue to co-habitate, albeit in drastically changed roles.  This launches a sequence of events in which the human TV also confuses the reality of the shows he has been broadcasting over the years with the reality of living on Planet Earth.  Some of his insider knowledge has its advantages when he tries to assert a more independent role in the relationship by finding a job, becoming a celebrity himself in the process.

Despite its undertones, Takeba Lisa’s film never takes itself too seriously and is ultimately an entertaining way to spend 78 minutes following Haruko’s quest for happiness.  It should be noted that her real-life paranormal experience careens wildly among references not safe for kids, including arson, sex, drug use and even the Ku Klux Klan (that last one, along with some knowledge of Japanese pop idol culture, is better seen than explained).  Haruko may or may not get her happy ending, but it ultimately doesn’t matter as she begins to emerge from her cocoon and face reality, much to the relief of everyone around her.

“Haruko’s Paranormal Laboratory” made its Asian Premiere at the 2015 Hong Kong International Film Festival.