Saturday, 20 October 2018

I Want To Eat Your Pancreas (2018) - Movie Review


The plot: While at the hospital, a mild-mannered high school student (Mahiro Takasugi) meets classmate Yamauchi (Lynn), who has kept her life-threatening pancreatic disease a secret from everyone... until now. As the two connect over this secret, they learn from each other what it means to really live.

Okay, you’ve seen the title. You’ve seen the poster in all its rather generic Japanese high school story glory. You’ve seen the set-up for the plot, which hopefully I’ve managed to provide sufficient background for. To say that all of these elements clash would ultimately end up selling this film a bit short. That feels like an impossibility, considering the amazing out-of-context jewel that is the fucking title, but I’m not going to try and present this like it’s the second coming of Pupa or anything. Instead, this is essentially a sick-lit story about two teenagers who bond in the face of a life-threatening illness. Hell, as memetic as the name is, there actually is rationalisation for it in the film itself, connected to a cultural idea that eating the organ of another animal like a cow’s heart can heal the same organ of the person eating it. After seeing the relationship between the unnamed male lead and Yamauchi develop, it ends up highlighting the bond that has grown between them. Sure, it doesn’t end up feeling as empathetic or self-sacrificing or even as morbid as it initially sounds because… well, this film doesn’t have that much morbidity to it.

Sure, quite a bit of the humour comes from Yamauchi being quite cavalier about her condition, what it’s doing to her and how aware she is of her mortality. However, the film never ends up striking a healthy balance between being candid and being confronting; it just keeps wildly moving from one to the other. No one is normal in this thing. The male lead isn’t just a loner; he’s so socially withdrawn that it comes across as rather pathological, like his isolation has left him developmentally stunted to a near-horrifying degree. Credit to Takasugi for delivering it in a way that makes it feel slightly less worrying, but there’s always that feeling that this guy, had he not run into Yamauchi, would likely be in a living hell. Yeah, the film gets into notions of people’s decisions leading them directly one way or another to help ease that, but again, it’s a tad unsettling. To say nothing of Yamauchi herself, who is basically every sick-lit protagonist trope blended with every Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope. She’s chipper about her circumstances, and if it wasn’t for Lynn thankfully grounding her in something close to realism, she could have gotten annoying real quickly. For a character who is dying in-story, that is not a good thing.

And then there’s Yamauchi’s best friend Kyoko and classmate Takahiro, both of whom go for straight-up psychotic in what they bring to the story. Yelling appears to be their main mode of communication, and they’re so willing to fly off the handle emotionally speaking, they somehow make the lead look like the ideal of mental health. But before I get too mean about all this, I should mention that, like the title, there’s a reason for this in-story. One of the reasons why the main relationship ends up working rather nicely is because it is highlighted as a connection between two people, removed from labels of friends or lovers. Between that and the film's rather refreshing definition of what it means to live life (basically doing what you want to do at any given moment, whether it's going out or staying in with a good book), this film definitely has some poignancy to it. It even goes into the character psyches of our leads and looks at how, in their own ways, they both have things they want to change. Beyond the obvious, at least. With Yamauchi, it’s how overprotective those close to her have become after learning about her illness. If there’s anything more painful than a deadly illness, it’s the patronising way that people can treat you as a result of it, thinking that anything short of being stuck in a hospital bed is putting you at risk. Admittedly, relating this to Kyoko is a flawed reading, since this doesn’t take into account the immense eye-roll that is this film’s finale, but it still fits thematically.

As for the male lead, the film basically looks at how isolated he is and reaches the same conclusion I did: It’s not healthy. Socialising and connecting with others, specifically those worth socialising with in the first place, is one of the few things that makes high school feel like less of a prolonged torture session. Anime involving high schoolers in the main cast tend to have at least one person who is chronically distant from everyone else and just needs some friends, usually as a self-insert for the likely socially awkward otaku and anime fans to connect with; call it the Shinji Ikari effect. However, while that idea is good in theory and certainly fits with the main conceit behind a lot of sick-lit work (learning the importance of life’s simple joys from someone who doesn’t have much time left to enjoy them), the plot doesn’t have nearly enough real conviction behind it to make it stick. The animation certainly helps ease the story along, combining traditional line work with some pretty damn good use of CGI for certain details, but it can often feel like being dragged from one usually-resonant moment to the other. Yeah, the emotional worth of a fair amount of this film is still solid, but not enough to justify the whiplash-inducing and occasionally ass-pulled plot beats we get here.

All in all, this is a high school-set coming-of-age romance with a title that has more relevance to Venom than what is found here; no wonder it’s all over the bloody place! The acting manages to get a lot more worth out of the characters than they logically should, the animation is honestly really friggin’ good and there’s even some genuine pathos to be found, but between the highly tropey writing, the overblown sentimentality that never quite lands on solid ground and the fact that its title could have been better fitting if this film had the nerve to actually delve into the darker stuff (properly, that is), it’s difficult to like too strongly and even more difficult to take seriously. It’s like if Don’t Torture A Duckling was actually a film about a duckling. However, because it has some proper emotional chops to it, it’s also difficult to hate too strongly; it’s so scattershot that it still manages to be good in places. Hell, I might even like it because it's so goddamn strange.

It ranks higher than Book Club, as the emotionality here doesn’t rely on me overlooking far worse and far more emotionally-damaged media in order to enjoy it. I Want To Eat Your Pancreas may have a name that has become my new favourite out-of-context movie title, but on its own merits, it’s rampantly inconsistent with some genuine merit underneath. However, by that same token, it falls short of The Polka King, which at least didn’t make me force myself not to burst out laughing when buying my ticket to see it. Bit of a moot point for a Netflix release, but as I’ve made a habit of saying throughout this review, that title is wicky in the whacky-woo.

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