One Million Yen Girl

One Million Yen Girl

***

Reviewed by: Owen Van Spall

When 21-year-old Suzuko Sato (Yu Aoi), in a moment of rage, trashes all her male flatmate's belongings after he leaves a kitten to die, she finds herself imprisoned for criminal charges (being unwilling to take the easy way out and explain this away as a lover's tiff). Released back into the arms of her painfully awkward parents and resentful younger sibling Takuya, Suzuko flees the unbearable atmosphere of recrimination and gossip about her shame to find pastures new, becoming something of a wandering hermit with only a million yen savings barrier keeping her in any one place. Once she saves a million in whatever job she takes, she moves on, using the funds to set up a new life somewhere else. The million yen figure has particular psychological significance for Suzuko, as it was that amount of money in damages that she was imprisoned for.

Much of the film is, therefore, a gently-paced travelogue across the typical scenery of Japan - a tiny village known for its excellent peach farming, a beach funfair cafe serving Japanese shaved ice cones, and a busier town with soulless shopping malls. In each place where she stops to take work, Suzuko encounters a variety of eccentric, kindly, or nosy characters, who more often than not convince her before long to speed up her departure plans. Somewhat inevitably, there are some hard lessons to learned by the end about facing up to the hand of cards life has dealt one, both on Suzuko's part and for her younger brother, who is facing his own juvenile challenges at school.

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Million Yen Girl is directed by Yuki Tanada, who had previously earned her breakthrough in her native Japan with her 2004 debut Moon And Cherry, and was known for writing the scenario for the 2006 film Sakuran, itself a high-profile directorial debut of famous photographer Mika Ninagawa. Tanada also has to her name the films Hatsuko's World (2007) and Aint No Tomorrows (2008), cementing herself in as one of the shining stars of the Japanese indie scene, which has seen the emergence of a great number of young female directors into a field that was traditionally male-oriented.

What appears on the surface to be a quirky indie comedy is actually more restrained and down-to-earth than one might expect. The pacing and soundtrack are very gentle, the camerawork observational and unobtrusive. The locales Suzuko descends on are surprisingly, possibly intentionally mundane and none contain any truly oddball characters; this is no Lost In Translation style journey through kitsch pachinko parlours and weird karaoke bars. The performances throughout are generally fine (Yu Aoi, in the lead, gives a solid, quietly intense performance) and the overall journey is indeed a pleasant one.

However, Million Yen Girl could do with an injection of zest and a less obvious route to an emotional conclusion (brother and sister resolve their differences, wandering girl realises she needs to face up to accepting her connections to her family) to set it apart more.

Reviewed on: 13 Feb 2011
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One Million Yen Girl packshot
A girl uses a target of earning a million yen to dictate when she moves from place to place.
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