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Girl’s Compass – Review

by Robin Kallemeyn

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An actress arrives on the set of her new film and is recognized by the director as being a former member of a female theatre group called the “Rashinban” (“Girl’s Compass”).  It is revealed that the group disbanded after the death of one of its members, and soon after talking with the director, the actress receives an anonymous message implicating her as the killer of the girl.  Shojotachi no Rashinban then switches time frames to the inception of the theatre group and proceeds to follow the events leading up to the murder and the remaining group members’ confrontation with the killer.

“Rashinban” consists of Rumi, the leader and outspoken member of the group, Ririko, the suicidal lesbian, Kaname, who likes to chew gum, and Ran, the talented actress who goes to a different school than the three girls who recruit her.  Kaname’s sister, Natsume, is a professional stage actress and gets the girls their first theatre gig after the girls’ early street performances.  One of the many problems with the film is that these characters are not fleshed out much beyond these quirks (gum chewing, periodic wrist cutting) or general purpose within the group.  In one scene, Rumi’s disgruntled mom says to Rumi that she’s “changed.”  It is mystifying as to what Rumi’s mom means by this because Rumi does not go through any change other than that she is slightly more serious in getting her theatre group to achieve a wide success in the second half of the film than in the first half.  This is also the only scene that the mother appears or says anything in the film, adding to the vagueness of the mother’s observation.

As with her relationship with her mother, Rumi’s relationship with the “Rashinban” girls is also insufficiently explored in the film.  The play that the girls eventually put on in their first theatre performance involves a murder of one of the play’s central characters to which the characters proclaim is the result of their ill communication with and lack of understanding of one another.  The play is meant to make clear some of the film’s thematic intentions, so it is ironic and all the more frustrating, then, that the “Rashinban” girls’ relationships with one another are insufficiently explored in the film.  When Ririko kisses and reveals her sexuality to Rumi, the scene cuts before an exchange takes place between the two.  Although the proceeding scenes does show the immediate aftermath of Ririko’s kissing of Rumi, the film still largely avoids exploring the two’s character or their relationship with one another by having a quick and all-too-tidy reconciliation between the two and placing Ririko in the background for the rest of the film.  The film also places an importance on Kaname’s relationship with her sister.  However, their relationship with each other is even more ill established in the film than the relationship between Rumi and Ririko as the only element that is revealed of the two’s relationship with one another is that Kaname likes to fix the bows on her sister’s shoes.  The fact that these characters and their relationships to one another are so barely sketched are just some of the reasons why the reveal of the victim and the perpetrator of the murder that eventually occurs in the film lacks any meaningful impact.

Apart from being about the girls’ alienation from one another, the film is vaguely about the making of art and trying to hold on to one’s childhood.  The film includes scenes that introduce these themes but never explores them.  A scene early in the film has an actor talk about how he does not like to fully memorize his lines because he feels that improvisation gives a film a sense of authenticity.  The film, then, can be read as a being partly about going against that idea.  The way the film introduces and drops thematic concerns give the film’s script the sense of being made on the fly and results in what is probably an intentionally preposterous and thematically inconsistent ending.  This also suggests an intentionality in some of its campy dialogue, including when one character yells, “Don’t go away!” to a setting sun or when another character tries to alleviate her friends’ nervousness before a performance by telling them to imagine rolling pumpkins.  Other thematic concerns are suggested as the film also includes a scene of a character contemplating in the middle of a children’s playground, one of the “Rashinban” girls gleefully playing on the swings with one girl stating, “It’s been too long since we’ve done this,” and another where the girls receive a candy in cute wrappings for one of their street performances.  These scenes suggest general ideas of holding on to one’s childhood but this, like the other themes introduced in this film, are never effectively explored through the course of the film.

During the scene where the “Ranshinban” performs their play, the camera cuts to shots of the theatre audience laughing at the campy aspects of show and moved by its drama.  The fact that the play’s plot mirrors the film’s plot suggests that the viewer is mean to react to the film in a similar way to the how the theatre audience reacts to the play.  Unfortunately, Shojotachi no Rashinban is too knowing and smug with its playfulness to work successfully as camp, and its ill-defined characters and insufficient thematic exploration causes the film to fail in producing a meaningful response from the viewer.

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Author: Robin Kallemeyn

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