Hinokio is a heart warming children’s film that looks at young people affected by death, school, friendship, and communication. Satoru, emotionally handicapped by his mother’s death and the temporary disability of his legs, has a fear of emotional communication with his father and those around him. In order to regain a sense of social interaction, Satoru uses a bizarre looking robot nicknamed Hinokio to carry out his everyday duties (namely attending school). In this film, Satoru’s use of the Hinokio robot provides a stage for the reflection of his inner emotions and his eventual reintegration into family and society.
Most films directed towards children usually contain a positive message for social behaviour, morality and traditional values. Hinokio is no different: the positive messages are indeed there, albeit somewhat confused. This is because the range of societal problems and subplots that the film tries to incorporate is much larger than a 110 minute film can accommodate. For example, the problems between Satoru and his father would be more than enough to take the audience on a more focused and emotionally wrenching journey.
Adding to the confusion, some of the metaphors used in the film are also too complicated for the comprehension of younger viewers. In particular, the links between the real world, the virtual world and the spiritual world, most of which are loosely explained by a video game featured in the film. This may sound confusing, and indeed it is, as the film oscillates between the real world and the game world. Finally, these two worlds merge, creating an even more confusing gateway into the spiritual world.
One of the less talked about achievements of the film is the visual effects. The effects used to create the Hinokio robot are an achievement in themselves. This isn’t surprising since director Takahiko Akiyama was the special effects supervisor for Final Fantasy – The Spirit Within. The way the robot looks and moves imbues a sense of humour and vulnerability which accurately reflect Satoru’s character. Ultimately, the synergy between Satoru and the robot become so comprehensive that at times you forget that Satoru is really a human and not a robot.
Overall, Hinokio isn’t good enough to warrant a cinema outing, which is good, as the film was released solely for video distribution. Despite its minor flaws, it’s an enjoyable film that is positively geared towards youths and family audiences.