Nazo no tenkousei 謎の転校生 (international title: The Dimension Travellers, litteral title: Mysterious Transfer Student) is a 1998 movie, directed by Konaka Kazuya and written by Murai Sadauki, adapting a novel by Mayumura Taku. It’s also Tsumabuki Satoshi’s first movie, which is exactly why I watched it. I actually wanted to watch his first drama (Subarashii Hibi) but couldn’t find it, so his first movie (and first thing ever, apparently) would have to do. In it, he (poorly) plays Iwata Koichi, a high-school student who is friends with (and has an obvious-to-everyone-but-her crush on) his classmate, Kagawa Midori (Niyama Chiharu).
Midori is the real focus of the story here. She’s a dissatisfied young girl that grows more and more tired of the futility, hypocrisy and vacuity of her high-school life, and relationships. Then, a mysterious girl, Mayumi (Sato Yasue) gets transferred in her class and also moves in her building, a few floors below. Mayumi is a weird girl, and things only get weirder when she tells Midori she’s actually from another world, and traveled to this one with her mother, after her own faced destruction.
A few words on Buki (since I did watch that movie to see him after all): as I said, he’s not really good in this. He had no experience as an actor and it definitely shows in how awkward he is, and in how unnatural his delivery is. That said, the other male high-schooler is very poorly acted too, and I think he might even be worse, but we don’t get to see him a lot, so who knows. Buki is not too present either. He’s like a “1st 2nd lead”, so him being awkward and not too convincing doesn’t really hurt the movie.
Thankfully, Niyama Chiharu and Sato Yasue, our two real leads, fare better. Rather than them being great, I find their performances fit the movie. I especially liked Sato Yasue as Mayumi. She’s the one who starts talking about multiverses and inter-dimensional travels, and physically, I think she really was perfect for the role: she’s got a very peculiar (and pretty) face, and combined with the way she was shot (like the way she was sometimes circled with light), it made her look very alien-like, very other-wordly, which of course is a great thing in that context. Both actresses, also, rendered their characters well enough for me to get invested in those characters, and what was happening to and between them.
Also, the movie got me really curious. From an “entertainment” POV, I was very eager to see what would happen, I was intrigued. Because of this, I liked the first half more than the second one. The first half is slower, and less spectacular, but it always kept me wondering, guessing, trying to see beyond the veil, as there always seemed to be something under the surface. Mayumi talks of different worlds, and nothing’s happened yet, but the movie has this ambiguous vibe that made me really hold my breath and wonder if she was saying the truth, how the other worlds were like, etc. Then, things really start happening and I was still intrigued, but also more lost and confused. That said, I was still invested.
And although the special effects have clearly aged (and I suspect the budget wasn’t very high, probably) and aren’t that convincing, I never felt it was a problem. Actually, in a way, it almost worked. Because the big question is: are other worlds real? Is this world real? Or is everything fake, is everything a lie, or happening in one character’s mind? In that sense, the fact that some worlds and effects look fake almost works for the movie, whether this was intended or not (probably not). Plus, to be honest, I do have a fondness for cheapness in certain movies, this one included. That said, there was one point in the movie where I did look at my (non-existent) watch (that obviously didn’t tell me much), because I was basically in “confusion overload” (also I was tired that day, so maybe that didn’t help). But the movie did entertain me, I did want to see where/how the characters would end up, and I wanted answers to all my questions.
So yes, I do know I liked that movie, that is for certain.
What I’m less certain of is what the movie was trying to say. Coz, clearly, Nazo no Tenkousei is about something, and I’m trying to understand exactly what it says, and how. Globally, it seems to be about what youth is like in Japan. School, for example, is like a hospital, according to Mayumi. In this hospital, students are the patients getting unknowingly treated, “corrected”, so that they better fit what society expects of them, as if their personalities were diseases. Without going into details, the movie does also mention containment of people’s imagination, controlling their mind, making them believe in illusions and locking up people that are able to make what they imagined come true, which would then change the world and disrupt the status-quo. So yeah, this movie is a lot about controlling and shaping youthful minds.
Also, Mayumi explains that she jumped worlds (with her mother) because her previous world was destroyed, and that “end of the world” thing keeps coming back in the movie, all universes apparently being threatened by a comet called Myutos. But really, even without Myutos, our characters want to escape, their worlds being shattered before they’re literally destroyed.
For example, before Mayumi’s previous world actually exploded, her personal reality was already in peril, as Mayumi’s divorcing parents kept arguing about who would get custody. Everything was already shattering. And now Myutos is about to crash into Midori’s universe too, but Midori’s world is already so very fragile. She doesn’t fit in it anymore. She has a hard time connecting with people, as all connections seem so fake to her. I also think she and Mayumi might have romantic feelings for one another, which is not received well by people around her, who keep insisting she should stop spending so much time with Mayumi. [spoiler: highlight to read] Also, she’s clearly been traumatized by the boy she had a crush on committing suicide, something which she repressed. Btw: that boy also was a dimension traveler, the movie says, and clearly his “world” was coming down too, no Myutos needed. Also, Mayumi moves in on the 4th floor of Midori’s building, and in Japan, 4 is considered an unlucky number because it’s got a similar pronunciation to the word “death” (to the point that in some buildings floors go directly from “3” to “5”). I then wonder if this movie couldn’t be about teenage suicide, and whether “escaping one’s reality crumbling down” couldn’t just mean “killing oneself”. Japan does have a high suicide rate after all… Anyway back to Midori: [/spoiler] even before there’s any talk of Myutos, in the very beginning of the movie, when we’re officially introduced to the character, we see she’s already very tired of her life. The very footsteps of her and her friends sound menacing, and while she’s smiling at them, she fantasizes about telling them off, and even killing them. So yep, her world is already on the verge of destruction, and she’s the one who wants to put it on fire.
I think this movie really is about the pressure put on youth, the way they’re forced to conform, and how it can destroy them, or make them want to escape reality, one way or another. That said, I’m not 100% sure I got everything the movie was trying to say, nor am I certain I always got what and how it was saying all this. I think I probably should rewatch it, but in the meantime, I did enjoy the movie and was interested in what (I think) it was trying to talk about.
So, I would not recommend Nazo no Tenkousei if your goal is to see Buki, since he only not-so-well plays a minor role, but otherwise, yes, I’d encourage you to try watching this movie. It’s kinda weird and not perfect at all, so I have no doubt half the audience will be left lost/bored/annoyed, but I liked it~ (also, there’s a 2012 Nazo no Tenkousei drama, but from the synopsis, it seems to take place before the movie ? I’m not sure. I’ll probably watch it someday.)
Have you seen that movie ? What did you think ? 😀