Fantasia Fest Journal: Chiwawa


Movie Rating:


Some films are not about character revelations or plot. Sometimes, you’re merely fed information and allowed the space to come to your own conclusions. Chiwawa chooses to present the world as a messy moving target, without ever giving you the satisfaction of definitive punctuation.

Like so many stories, Chiwawa begins with a dead woman. Chiwawa (Shiori Yoshida) is found in the Tokyo Bay. No one knows how she got there, and as the film progresses you slowly realize that it’s not really about solving the mystery of her death; it’s about assembling the mystery of her life. Like Twin Peaks and, more recently, Knives and Skin, Chiwawa accepts and then subverts the audience’s expectation of a young woman’s death being merely a catalyst for another person’s story and investigation. These women deserve more than that.

As Chiwawa’s friends come to grips with the loss of their friend, Miki (Mugi Kadowaki) tries to get to know Chiwawa better through their stories and memories. Most of the film is an assembled oral history of this complex character through her various relationships.

What feels at first like a celebration of Instagram culture’s collision with manic pixie dream girls, the film deftly pivots to be a neutral examination of the facets of those intentionally superficial modes of young women today. After stealing an awful lot of money on a whim, Chiwawa and friends head out to a vacation together to live like influencers. While their scantily clad parties look like they’re straight out of a Flaming Lips concert, it soon becomes apparent that the movie is in no way celebrating their frivolity. As they move from room to room in the endless halls of their hotel suite, the homogenization of consumption leaves an empty feeling, both on screen and in the audience, but it never goes so far as to punish the friends for their excess. They’re just kids, and learning from these trials in life are one of the ways to make adults.

Chiwawa takes a similarly neutral lens to the other versions of Chiwawa we meet throughout the film. She was very different to different people throughout her life, even within the same social group, and none of these clones are any less authentic than the last. As Miki uncovers the layers of Chiwawa, she does so without trying to dig to one, singular truthy core, as all of these layers are just as representative of her friend as the last.

Ultimately, Chiwawa is an incredible coming-of-age film that openly acknowledges that there’s no end in sight for anyone’s personal growth, no finish line for maturity, and no single version of a person that’s any more valid than another. The respect it gives to these young folks as they struggle with the vast gray area that is most of life allows them space to grow that few films have the careful footing to create.

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