Original Release Date: April 26, 2019 Directed By: Keiichi Hara Genre: Adventure, Fantasy Based on the Story Written By: Sachiko Kashiwaba
***Warning, the following may contain spoilers for Birthday Wonderland. Reader discretion is advised.***
Akane (voiced by Mayu Matsuoka) is a listless elementary schooler. Little can excite her, and she would stay far away from other people and their business if she could.
Then on the day before Akane’s birthday, Akane’s mother sends her daughter over to a friend’s, the wanderlusty Chi’s (voiced by Anne Watanabe), shop to pick up a birthday present. When there, Akane accidentally triggers a mysterious relic. A well-dressed man with a top hat and curly mustache emerges from the basement, the great alchemist Hippocrates (voiced by Masachika Ichimura).
Hippocrates informs Akane that she is the reincarnation of the Goddess of the Green Wind, and thus, the savior of his parallel world. Without any choice, Akane, accompanied by Chi, begins an adventure through a land of magic and mysticism.
In case you are unaware, I attempted to watch Birthday Wonderland when it came out in theatres back in 2019. Of course, when I say “attempted,” I mean I saw this film in Japanese cinemas with no English subtitles. Therefore, there were parts of this movie that went over my head.
For that reason, I have always planned to return to Birthday Wonderland and give it a fair shot. Thus, I can say, with all honesty, I was willing to give this movie the benefit of the doubt. I was less than impressed with it the first time, but that easily could have been due to me not understanding the story.
Nevertheless, though I believed such a reversal was possible, I didn’t think it probable. I somewhat dreaded returning to Birthday Wonderland since it bored me something fierce when last I watched it.
Before delving into whether or not this film recovered, let’s discuss the aspects I did enjoy. For the most part, much of what I have to say in this regard already exists in the original Out and About: Eigakan – Birthday Wonderland.
If nothing else, this film was beautiful. The locations, character designs, and environments came together and crafted a world that fittingly described a titular “Wonderland.”
To paraphrase a line from the Out and About post:
“I cannot, and will not, deny Birthday Wonderland’s imagination. Anything that could have been big was large, anything that could have been grand was magnificent, and anything that could have been magical was so.”
For the visuals alone, I don’t regret watching this film in theatres. Seeing this art style on the big screen was well worth the price of admission. If anything, my limited Japanese probably helped me out. Instead of needing to follow the story, I could simply sit back and enjoy the view.
Getting through this movie again, I can confirm that Birthday Wonderland’s animation was its best feature – except for the characters’ eyes. I don’t know what was going on here, but whenever there was a close-up on someone’s face, their pupils looked off. It was a little unnerving if I’m completely candid.
Still, the whole look-at-how-whimsical-we-are vibe emanating off Birthday Wonderland was impossible to ignore.
But though this film’s visuals were larger than life, they did very little to hide the truth. This movie was hollow and about an hour too long.
This was the reason I was hesitant to return to Birthday Wonderland. Though I didn’t understand everything that was happening with the story back in 2019, even I could see that not a whole lot was taking place.
This is me getting ahead of myself. Let’s wrap up this section and start talking about why Birthday Wonderland isn’t worth your time.
Birthday Wonderland isn’t rage-inducing-ly bad; it’s just boring. Many scenes in this film existed purely to showcase the visuals rather than progress the story. For instance:
- The sandstorm
- Akane and Chi crossing the rickety bridge
- Traversing the underwater route
- The border inspection manned by cats
If we were to cut these parts out of the movie, the narrative would not change, and we would save a solid thirty minutes of runtime.
Birthday Wonderland had a big problem with pseudo-dilemmas – a.k.a., issues that were inconveniences for our characters but none of which did anything to prevent their forward path.
For example, Hippocrates spent much of the movie as a useless fly. Although this stopped him from aiding Akane and Chi during their adventure, his absence wasn’t all that noticeable. After transforming into a fly, there was never a situation where Hippocrates’ knowledge or expertise would have made anything easier.
Heck, if anything, what happened to Hippocrates proved he was a worthless, over-inflated character. His one job was to bring Akane to the Wonderland and point her in the right direction. Once he had done that, there wasn’t much else for him to do.
Also, it was a sub-par magician’s apprentice who turned Hippocrates into the fly. With little effort, the most respected alchemist in this world got smacked around by some little punk.
And while we are on the subject of characters, Akane and Chi weren’t much better.
Oh my God, Akane was insufferably grating throughout this film. Yeah, I know she was only in elementary school and was on this adventure against her will, but did that mean she had to complain about every little thing?
And – get this – when Akane had her big coming-of-age moment, that didn’t feel earned. No, the story simply decided Akane had been the whiny wet blanket long enough, and she needed to stop being that for this movie to reach its conclusion.
Then there was Chi, who might have been salvageable; she wasn’t the worst thing about this film. The problem was, one of Chi’s first interactions with Akane was the former playing grab-ass with the latter (again, who was a sixth-grader).
But as we know, rather than being creepy, molestation is merely quirky when a woman does it.
And another thing. Based on what I saw in Birthday Wonderland, property damage, theft, assault, and attempted murder are perfectly legal in this parallel world. This is especially true if the perpetrator is royalty.
To fully explain what I am referring to, it would require me to deconstruct this film’s villain. But since Birthday Wonderland’s bad guy was flat, uninteresting, and instantly forgettable, forgive me for not wanting to do that. To sum it up, this story’s antagonist was no better than a brooding teenager with a lot of “soul pain.”
I knew something wasn’t right with this film when I saw it the first time.
To make a long story short, Birthday Wonderland was flash with no substance.
Whether intentional or not, this entire movie appeared to be a failed attempt to emulate the work of Hayao Miyazaki.
Although the legendary filmmaker is famous for his grand fantasy worlds and breathtaking visuals, when Miyazaki has had wonder in his movies, he has always paired it with a point. His art style didn’t exist merely for the sake of existing. No, for Miyazaki, the narrative has always been at the forefront.
Birthday Wonderland did not seem to understand that concept.
I’ll admit, this review comes off as nitpicky. But in response to that, this movie didn’t leave me much choice.
I could have simply said this film told a hollow story in a fashion that might have worked a decade prior to its release. Except, the devil was in the details. A lot of this flick came off as misguided, poorly executed, and half-heartedly conveyed.
But as long as it looked pretty, then it was mission complete. Too bad that it wasn’t.
Birthday Wonderland is one you can skip.
But these were just my thoughts. What are yours? Have you seen this film? How would you advise Birthday Wonderland? Leave a comment down below because I would love to hear what you have to say.
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