Starring: Mio Ôtani, Rumi Hanai, Naomi Akimoto
Director: Shûsuke Kaneko
Running Time: 91 mins
Jellyfish is a Japanese film about two teenage girls whose romantic relationship develops alongside growing insecurity and personal curiosity, as they explore their own sexuality while feeling the pain of love in the real world.
Although it’s a topic that’s touched on in more obscure circles, LGBT movies rarely get a big release in Japan, so it’s interesting to watch one like Jellyfish that attempts to bring a topic that’s ever more widespread elsewhere in the world to a Japanese audience. On the one hand, the film succeeds in providing an interesting and often striking insight into the nature of sexuality, but on the other, it regularly goes way too far, relegating it to an unfortunately underwhelming and certainly less-than-accessible watch.
Let’s start with the one thing that really works about Jellyfish, the premise. Although it isn’t executed particularly well, the intention and intrigue is there in plain sight right the way through, as we follow two teenage girls who begin to struggle with their own sexuality and the way in which the world around them perceives their actions.
What’s even more interesting is that this isn’t a simplistic, linear approach that simply pits the struggles of an LGBT person against traditional society, but instead, there’s a really interesting internal conflict that arises in the two main characters as they take different approaches to dealing with their ever-changing or ever more clear ideals and nature.
So, while this same topic has received a lot of attention from mainstream films in other countries, Jellyfish offers a far more layered and dynamic look at the topic, with an interesting and often striking approach that sets up expectations for a deeply riveting watch.
Unfortunately, for all that promise early on, the film really struggles to follow through, and proves a rather underwhelming, excessive and frankly dull watch in the end.
The biggest problem is the amount of attention the film pays to long, silent sex scenes that just don’t have the emotional depth and power that they need to carry off the story’s real intrigue. While I have reservations about the dialogue too (and we’ll get onto that in a moment), these sequences are huge stumbling blocks to the growing emotional depth and intrigue of the story, taking away from the multifaceted approach to a discussion of sexuality and replacing it with an often excessively lurid and irritatingly basic depiction of the subject.
So, while the movie doesn’t do too well to grab you throughout, it’s those sequences that really prove problematic for a real emotional takeaway. Many films use sex scenes to brilliant effect, cementing and often eccentuating the emotional drama through them, but this film is just too basic and plain about it to really help that effect hit home.
The dialogue, too, is frustrating throughout. At times as annoyingly basic as the sex scenes, and at others a descent into the tedious world of mumblecore, the film really struggled to grab me throughout, and it was only through some of its few really striking moments (most of which have little to no dialogue), that actually engrossed me in the film’s unique premise.
As a result, Jellyfish is a really rather boring and frustrating watch for the most part. It may have an interesting and surprisingly layered approach to its subject matter, and one that you likely won’t have seen before, but it executes that in terrible fashion, with poor dialogue, jarring editing and directing, and an often frustrating tendency to gloss over good, interesting points in exchange for basic and often dull sequences, and that’s why I’m giving it a 5.7 overall.