THE DISAPPEARANCE OF HARUHI SUZUMIYA
(Susimiya Haruhi no Shoshitsu)
This film is based on the fourth of the books The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya (2004) and follows directly on from the tv series. The film comes with an amazing degree of backstory that proves bewildering for the uninitiated. For those who come to the film without any familiarity with the anime series or books, we have what appears to be the story of an average schoolboy who wakes up one morning to discover that a bright and lively student in his class no longer exists and that his other friends are now all different. Details then start slipping out that reveal a backstory about the original reality that seems utterly wild we learn that Haruhi has amazing godlike powers that come into effect when she is upset; that Koizumi is a time-traveller; that the shy bespectacled Yuki is an alien android; talk of how Asakura previously tried to kill Kyon; or how a visit to Yukis apartment in the past reveals copies of Kyon and Mikuru frozen in stasis in the guest bedroom. All of these refer back to the continuity established by the tv series but are baffling if you come to the film knowing nothing about this.
Directors Tatsuya Ishihara and Yasuhiro Takemoto both come from making numerous episodes of the tv series. They place an extraordinary artistry into the film, lavishing an enormous amount of detail to create authentically detailed Japanese streets and backgrounds of the schoolrooms. There is an undeniable irony to this the Haruhi Suzumiya saga involves all manner of mind-boggling concepts aliens, androids, time travel, teenage girls with godlike reality bending powers. Most films based on a tv series use the bigger budget afforded by the film version to expand out and show things more lavishly than they could on the small screen. Contrarily, the film has for the bulk of its running time chosen to focus all of its artistic detail on the creation of a world that is wholly mundane and where none of the fantastical happenings in the rest of the series are going on.
Elsewhere, the film is a return to the 1970s style of anime featuring child-like characters with giant oversized eyes that take up nearly half their head. However, rather than a typical shoujo anime say something like Sailor Moon (1992-2000) the film has an oddly slow and melancholy tone and spends much of its surprisingly long running time (163 minutes) reflecting on inner states. This is surprising, given that The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya seems in all other regards to be pitched as a typical shoujo anime for adolescents. The filmmakers appear to have approached it as an adult work, especially in giving such an extraordinary degree of artistic detail to the depiction of the ordinary world around the characters. You cannot help but wonder who they thought the audience for the film would be. For all that, one should not complain, as the results are quite lovely.
A general observation could be made that any fantastic tv series that turns up an alternate world scenario where its familiar characters play different roles can be said to be one that is running creatively thin and needs to add some novelty (or give the lead actors something different to play). That said, The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya lets its premise play out in extraordinary ways. When we eventually come to understand what has happened [PLOT SPOILERS] how a lonely android has regarded the emotions it has discovered in its system as an imperfection and where the hero is eventually handed the choice between whether he wants a world of dull mundanity or one of perpetual craziness where he must run around tending the whims of Haruhi these revelations unfold with a beautiful logic and an extraordinary tenderness to the writing. There is also an absolutely lovely ending where Kyon stands up to defend the sad, lonely android girl Yuki and promises that if they ever consider substituting anything else he will stir up Haruhi and get her to unleash absolute chaos against them. In this sense, the Haruhi Suzumiya series remains worlds ahead of the Harry Potter series in terms of the depth of its writing.
Full film available online here (English dubbed version):-