Film / Reviews

'Hello World': Kyoto as you've never seen it before

by Matt Schley

Contributing Writer

If you’ve studied the basics of computer programming, you’ll probably recognize the phrase “hello world.” It’s the textbook-recommended line of text learners type into their first program, then delight as it pops up on screen.

The new anime film “Hello World” centers around a computer program, albeit one slightly more complicated than a line of text. The film opens in Kyoto in the year 2027, on what seems to be a normal day for high school student Naomi Katagaki (Takumi Kitamura), a young man who’s obsessed with reading and short on friends.

On his way home from school, Naomi encounters a mysterious older man (Tori Matsuzaka) who knows his name and everything about him. The man, it turns out, is an older version of Naomi himself. And here’s where the computer program comes in: Young Naomi’s entire world is actually a giant computer simulation, the Kyoto of the near past preserved down to the last detail for future generations to study.

Hello World (Haro Warudo)
Rating
Run Time 98 mins.
Language JAPANESE
Opens SEPT. 20

The older Naomi has somehow hacked his consciousness into this computer simulation for a single purpose — to get his younger, computer-simulated self a girlfriend. The object of his affection is Ruri Ichigyo (Minami Hamabe), a similarly bookish, brusque girl who seems immune to what little charms Naomi has to offer. But get together they must, says Naomi 2, or his younger self won’t be able to protect Ruri from being injured and falling into a coma the night of the upcoming summer festival.

Meanwhile, as Team Naomi begins to alter the timeline, the computer simulation’s anti-corruption software — which takes the form of creepy, hunchbacked creatures wearing fox masks — enters the picture, trying to put things back the way they were by force.

What’s the point, you may be asking, of the older Naomi trying to change the past if it’s all just a computer simulation? Without getting into spoiler territory, let’s just say the dividing line between these two worlds is less solid than it initially appears.

The hazy border between flesh-and-blood worlds and computer-generated ones is a well-worn theme for “Hello World” director Tomohiko Ito, best known for helming popular anime series “Sword Art Online.” In this film, he stretches that theme to its limits, building to a climax that will either thrill or frustrate depending on how much you value comprehensibility (if someone could explain the final shot to me, that’d be great, thanks).

But while the ideas get complex, Ito and screenwriter Mado Nozaki never forget to ground their story around its characters. The interactions between Naomi and his grown-up counterpart are well-written and charming. The same goes for young Naomi and Ruri, whose unlikely relationship blossoms in a way that doesn’t feel forced. Small details keep our heroes’ personalities in mind: When bookworm Naomi receives baddy-busting powers, he doesn’t wield a gun or sword, but a giant enemy-thwapping book.

A significant portion of the characters’ charm comes from designer Yukiko Horiguchi, known for Kyoto Animation works like “Lucky Star” and “Tamako Market.” The characters in “Hello World” are animated in CG, a method that’s been making serious inroads in anime production. With a few exceptions aside, one serious roadblock in replicating the appeal of hand-drawn anime in CG has been the uninspiring character designs. I’m still not 100 percent on-board for the whole CG thing, but “Hello World” is one of the best-looking examples I’ve seen to date.

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