Film / Reviews

Schoolgirls with dubious impulses run wild in ‘Our Huff and Puff Journey’

by Mark Schilling

Special To The Japan Times

When I was living in a student sharehouse, a fellow resident proposed breaking into a nearby public pool for a midnight swim.

“Why?” I asked.

“So we’ll have something to remember when we get old,” he said.

That sounded reasonable enough, but later, while we were cavorting in the water, a security guard notified the police. With the cops in hot pursuit, we climbed a two-meter fence, ran across an open field, plunged into a river and began swimming like hell. My friend was right: That was a night I will never forget.

Also making lasting memories from a dubious youthful impulse are the four high school heroines of Daigo Matsui’s “Watashitachi no Haa Haa” (“Our Huff and Puff Journey”). They are fans of the real-life rock band CreepHyp, and decide on the spur of the moment to go the group’s Tokyo concert.

Problem one: they live in Kitakyushu, Fukuoka Prefecture, nearly 1,000 km away. Problem two: They have little money and can’t ask their parents for more since the response would be an automatic “No.”

Their brilliant solution is to toss overnight bags into the baskets of their commuter bikes and pedal off, still wearing their school uniforms.

The thrill of their escape soon begins to fade as the reality of sore legs sets in. Instead of making a U-turn, however, the girls keep going. Silly kids, right?

Matsui, who at 29 is only a decade or so older than his heroines, celebrates this silliness rather than making fun of it. Also, despite becoming a seishun eiga (youth film) specialist since his 2012 hit “Afro Tanaka,” he rejects genre formulas. He shows the schoolgirls in their natural states, with camerawork that looks as improvised as the average smartphone video.

This makes for some confusion at the beginning: While constantly on the move the girls chitchat in the way close friends do, minus standard movie-dialogue explanations. But Matsui, who also wrote the script, structures the action so that what begins as a shot-on-the-fly reality show coalesces into a narrative with a clear arc, involving characters that emerge as distinct individuals.

Much of their stand-out quality comes from astute casting. Beauty contest winner Saku Mayama plays Chie, the prettiest and most naive of the girls. Social media celebrity Reika Ozeki (she has more than half a million followers on Twitter and Vine) is Sattsun, the group’s pint-sized energy source. Singer-songwriter Sonoko Inoue shines as Ichinose, a wise-beyond-her-years type who wants to make it as a musician. Finally, Toko Miura, a professional actress with three credits in Matsui’s films, impresses as the volatile Fumiko, the foursome’s most ardent CreepHyp fan.

Their adventures continue the next morning when they ditch the bikes and start hitchhiking. A middle-aged one-time rocker tries to impress them, calling himself the “Keith Richards of Hiroshima” — but they have no idea who Keith Richards is. A young, indifferent guy (Sosuke Ikematsu) reluctantly gives them a ride and warns them about the dangers of the road, but then, at a rest stop, he gives one girl a kiss more thrilling than threatening.

All this is interesting enough, but like all road movies, this one has a destination — the CreepHyp concert — and as it nears, the girls once again become stock characters in a familiar scenario. Will they make it in time? Will the strain of the trip break them apart?

Does it really matter? Late or not, they’ve made some indelible memories — the unstated goal of their escapade.

A CreepHyp band promo it may be, but in the end “Our Huff and Puff Journey” is not about its destination.

And in case you’re still wondering, the cops never caught us.