[Fantasia 2019] Akane’s in Wonderland, A Movie Review

17 Jul

By Ed Sum
(The Vintage Tempest)

Akane’s (Mayu Matsuoka) life may seem boring, if not downright depressing in Keiichi Hara‘s The Wonderland (バースデー・ワンダーランド). Her birthday is coming up and she should be happy. When she’s asked to visit Aunt Chii (Anne Watanabe) on the other side of town just to pick up her own celebratory gift, it’s a safe bet her world is going to be turned upside down. The tones this film borrows from Lewis Carroll’s work cannot go unnoticed.

Instead, I feel it takes a few cues from Studio Ghibli‘s The Cat Returns. Strangely though, Gorobeh, her pet cat was not along for the entire ride. I wish he did since this type of comic relief, I can never tire of. Instead, she meets a gentlemanly Hippocrates (Masachika Ichimura) and Pipo (Nao Tôyama), his diminutive elf assistant. They believe Akane can save their world. She’s The Goddess of the Green Wind!

Hara’s adaptation of Sachiko Kashiwaba‘s 1988 children’s book Chikashitru Kara no Fushigi na Tabi (Strange Journey From The Basement) is charming. The world the fantasy characters inhabit is colourful and bright. But as the plot reveals itself, some force is draining this realm of all its vibrancy. Akane has to save the day. Even more importantly, she has to learn how to confront hurdles in her life and cannot simply hide from it, as the film so points out at the start.

The movie is essentially a coming of age and hero’s journey tale all mixed into one. The tale is nothing new and my interest in how what kind of magical wonders can I find here. The denizens range from huge fluffy sheep to talking cats. Not to be confused with Wonder Park, I’d take a visit to this realm one more time just to see what I missed.

3½ Stars out of 5

This film played at Fantasia 2019, July 14th. For a screening near you, please check out your local film festival or art house listings.

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