Director – Tomohiko Ito – 2019 – Japan – 97m
A social misfit schoolboy must rescue a girl classmate from the rogue software underpinning a virtual, future version of Kyoto with the help of his time travelling, ten years older self who is in love with her – plays online in the Japan Foundation Touring Programme 2021 in the UK, 48 hour rental window from 6pm, Monday, March 1st
Kyoto, 2027. Bookwormish Naomi Katagaki (voice: Takumi Kitamura) doesn’t really fit in at his Kyoto school. When he walks there in the morning, the fact of his head being buried in a self-improvement book seems the perfect metaphor for his complete lack of social skills. Asked by a bright, pretty classmate if he’d like to join her and a bunch of others for karaoke after school, he doesn’t really know how to respond and before we know it, she and the group have gone.
He doesn’t really pay attention to those around him, so he gets ignored. While he’s working out what food to select in the canteen lunch queue, everyone has dived in and taken everything but the one option no-one wants. Only when the subject of who is to volunteer for the library duty comes up do his fellow students take any interest in him – by recommending him for the post to which he agrees more out of an inability to say no than from any real desire to take it on.
In the library, his continuing indecision means that when everyone is ordered to find a partner on the smartphone Wiz app, he is left with the last girl, Ruri Ichigyo (voice: Minami Hamabe), the one who has never used used the app before and ends up giving him her address via pencil and paper.
None of which suggests anything more than your standard anime teen high school romance, albeit one with flawlessly animated with beautifully rendered visuals. But then the film ups the ante with a peculiar sidestep into time travel science fiction with the introduction of Katagaki’s ten years into the future self (voice: Tori Matsuzaka) who revels that he is in love with Ichigyo but following an accident she is in a coma in the future, so he has come back to make some changes to rectify her situation. All he wants, he says, is a memory of her smiling.
A three legged crow (voice when it eventually speaks: Rie Kugimiya) appears to the younger Katagaki, forming itself into a metallic-appearing glove which fits on his hand and enables him to exercise superpowers in the visual form of trails of primary colours. It seems that the whole of Kyoto as he knows it is a set of data stored in a computerised ‘Chronicle Kyoto’ project by the Pluura corporation inside a hemispherical bubble called the Alltale which his older self wants him to reset. (Phew!) This computer programming-oriented subject matter is reflected in the film’s title: Hello World is the name of the first programme beginners learn in computer programming, which outputs the message Hello World in whatever computer language is being used.
More for the purposes of narrative dramatic conflict than anything else, the Alltale generates a seemingly endless supply of Homeostasis System Droids to prevent him making any unwanted changes. These appear in the form of hunchback police officers wearing kitsune (Japanese fox spirit) masks and allow director Ito to deliver serial spectacular set pieces in his action-packed second half involving the massed droid hordes clogging up the view from the hospital window where Ichigyo is convalescing and later organising themselves into spectacular droid towers toppling towards the younger Katagaki even as he flees them. Earlier, as the future programme is put on hold, the droids wander around emasculated with the words ‘Safe Mode’ floating in front of their foreheads while the younger Katagaki hides under a lorry.
The proceedings prove compelling enough while you’re watching, but afterwards you may wonder what exactly was the point. The visual conceits certainly grab the attention though, even allowing the cityscape at one point to fold in on itself in an obvious nod to the rather better worked out Inception (Christopher Nolan, 2010). Otherwise, it all feels far to clever for its own good and extremely difficult for an audience to follow, even as they’re willingly swept along by its stunning and colourful visuals and bravura effects animation.
Hello World plays online in the Japan Foundation Touring Programme 2021 in the UK, 48 hour rental window from 6pm, Monday, March 1st.