Sumikkogurashi: The Movie
Starring the voices of Yoshihiko Inohara, Manami Honjo
Directed by Mankyu
The first thing you would do when you see Sumikkogurashi: The Movie is to exclaim “Soooo cute”.
The second thing is you'd probably look for a cosy corner to tuck yourself away in.
Okay, the third thing is you just may wonder at how lovable Japanese animated characters imprinted on pencil cases, pens, toys, bags and even socks have actually made their way into classic ang moh children's stories. Namely, Little Red Riding Hood, The Little Mermaid, The Little Match Girl, The Ugly Duckling and Arabian Nights with a sad blob instead of a sexy princess sitting on the flying carpet.
Oh, wait, pardon me. In view of the popularity of these shy little cuties right now, it's the other way round. It's those fading Western tales that have come to the Land Of The Rising Sun in this eccentric, peculiar (to an unschooled dinosaur like me), and ultimately heartwarming animation flick.
The cuties rally here to help a new solitary cutie, Hiyoko, looking like a tiny chick, who is hopelessly lost in search of its unknown origin and in need of some good friends to hang out with.
Now, if you're also hopelessly lost not knowing exactly what this Japanese fad is about — count me in too —its longish foreign title basically means “life in the corner”.
The characters here — super-quiet, kinda forlorn, bulbously obese castaways in everyday life — are so comfortable sitting one on top of another in a corner of a room, cafe, anywhere in blissful low-bar contentment, they look like a totem pole of hibernating plushies.
Japan is a weird place. So weird that it can make such charming creatures out of the misfits of society. It's an aberration which I like very much.
Sometimes it's good to have weirdos like these who aren't always lovey-dovey to make things more interesting and more representative. Hey, we all love to chope that corner seat, right? Instead of having kawaii-happy thingies all the time like Hello Kitty or a chirpy Pikachu when it's not pissed off enough to hurl its lightning.
I'll put this in a way normal people can understand very easily — if this was a Marvel superhero movie, these mute little critters would definitely be lonesome Wolverine's best pals.
Created by Yuri Yokomizo, a graphic designer and doodler in Japanese creative-stationery company, San-X, some Sumikkogurashi characters are animals, some are food such as a leftover bit of fried pork cutlet, some are dust particles called Horoki and one, Zassou, is even a cheerful shrub of weed who dreams of becoming a lovely bouquet one day. You know, I used to have a friend like this, too. I think he's still in the institution.
But, let me tell you this, all these strange globular beings are simply adorable.
The kids, especially the girls, will love this show. While the grown-ups would need to buy the stationery for them right after it since that's how Sumikkogurashi basically started life as back in 2012 before this film.
Actually it's more like an extended short film because it trots by in a mere 66 minutes during which the whole thing looks like postcard vignettes as various SG characters encounter their famous said Western counterparts.
I have to admit. I basically can't tell which fat glob is which or what group they are in — any wise six-year-old could probably tell you who's “Sumikko” (pessimistic main characters) and who's “Minikko” (optimistic minor ones) — because my brain is too dumb for such complex permutations.
The outcasts are cast out of their comfort zone, oops, sorry, comfort corner in this movie when somehow, down in the basement of their fave cafe, a mysterious pop-up book pops up and starts to suck everybody into its pages one by one.
Now, the Japanese narrator here fills us in helpfully, telling the story in a lively, enthusiastic manner — there's also an English version in the cinemas — which means that this surely won't be an everybody-dies Sumikko-very-gory-shi abduction horror flick. Sorry, I couldn't resist that inane joke.
Although the funniest bit here is that bit of pork cutlet, Tonkatsu, and his little leftover-tail-of-shrimp buddy, Ebufurai No Shippo, having a kind of culinary death wish to be eaten joyfully by the Big Bad Wolf from Little Red Riding Hood. “Eat us please,” they keep nagging gleefully.
In the midst of helping the lonely Hiyoko find its way to its true identity, the laidback friends are pulled away from each other into separate adventures both fun and fearsome, and forced into somewhat strenuous action in their new uncharted world of Western storybook folks with few comfy corners to hide in.
Shirokuma, the timid polar bear, finds himself careening crazily downhill on a suicidal snow sled. Neko, the shy cat, faces a fierce giant demon. While the habitually unsure Penguin is the aforementioned sad blob plonked atop the flying carpet from Arabian Nights.
I think it's really quite clever of this plot to pit them with such recognisable faces from ye olde children's stories because it puts a sense of familiarity into the entire flick. And besides, upon closer inspection, these ang moh storybook folks they meet — Little Match Girl, Little Mermaid, Ugly Duckling, certainly Big Bad Wolf — are also characters like themselves who are basically marginalised in their own tales too.
Outcasts meeting outcasts right here. All of which makes for a nice, cosy ending to this nice, cosy cartoon. One that will surely warm your heart.
Every corner of your heart, that is. (***)
Photo: Encore Films