Debut director Genta Matsugami takes the mantle this year with a striking teen drama in Demolition Girl. The film has already garnered some critical and awarded acclaim since beginning a festival run since late last year ahead of its release this August.
Demotlition Girl serves up a strong and compelling contemplative focus on a number of things standing in the way of a young high school girl. She’s looking to get out in the world, but with a horde of obstacles and strict societal conventions impeding her, it takes an underlying emotional toll that magnifies just why it is we root for her in the first place.
Initially resigned to getting a job after graduation, Cocoa (Aya Kitai) comes to see an opportunity to attend college in Tokyo. She’d been working part time selling sausages while also engaging in a secret trade as a foot fetish video star. Except for her two best friends, Sakura (Haruka Imou) and Aiko (Yura Komuro), no one knows about her under-the-radar occupation – not even her out-of-work, gambling-addicted father (Yota Kawase), or her slacker brother, Tokio (Ko Maehara), both who’d rather live off of his father’s jobless benefits on top of whatever few hundred Yen Cocoa manages to bring home.
Cocoa has at least one other ace in the hole: a small nest egg she keeps hidden for personal savings. She also apparently has some extra cash saved up by her late mother to at least cover requisite fees for university should she decide to go. Meanwhile, friend and amateur filmmaker, Kazuo (Hiroki Ino), has already begun mass producing DVDs of Cocoa’s films, believing to have found himself a goldmine with a gangster hustling them on the street. As Kazuo expected, it’s become a huge hit – news that would otherwise please Cocoa provided her secret can stay that way at least until she graduates.
This generally sums up the series of events in Matsugami’s Demolition Girl, culminating around the hopes of a young teenager whose hopeful glimmer seems ever dimming at times. There’s an underlying constant that reassures you of a twist that’s bound to happen whenever things start to look up, and given Cocoa’s economic standing, aspirations and the betrayals that follow, it also speaks to her true nature.
Cocoa definitely needs the money, but its the extent of that need juxtaposed to the more priceless things in life that she values the most, with only a few people to add to that list. It all culminates in an emotional release later in the film which is something I believe most people who’ve endured, or are still enduring, can relate to – a moment in which one’s own pursuit of joy and happiness seems so close and yet so much farther.
Beautifully scored and lensed, Demolition Girl takes a deep, personal look into the stifled life of a stoic young girl continually forced to contemplate her limited options in some increasingly difficult circumstances. Where the film’s title comes in is simply a matter of its pliable interpretation, especially with regard to the film’s Japanese title in accordance with the story.
The pains of growing up are brilliantly underscored through Matsugami’s script and overall stunning vision in a way that celebrates the artful, arresting aesthetic of Japanese indie cinema. The imagery of actress Kitai’s Cocoa holding a pick axe in the official poster is just the icing on the cake for all its literal and symbollic value. It adds to the film’s overall gravitas and I can definitely see why a festival like New York City’s Japan Cuts would want in.
Brimming with a number of colorful characters that bare an appeal and grow on you – a few of whom may even enrage you, Demolition Girl is a soul-searching, coming-of-age ballad that will motivate and inspire you.