Part romance, part fairy tale, part gothic horror, part video clip, Last Quarter, is an interesting and surprisingly original film. Based on hit shoujo (girls) manga Kagen No Tsuki by Ai Yazawa (Nana, Paradise Kiss), it charts questions of an unexpectedly thoughtful and arguably relevant nature with dreamlike clarity. Like a surreal Little Red Riding Hood, the story focuses on Mizuki as she runs from the perceived troubles in her life straight into the arms of someone who anyone else would have immediately suspected was probably a wolf.
Not your conventional wolf, mind you, and Grandma’s house is more like a mansion, but Mizuki is too consumed by her own problems to care about the strange synchronicity of it all. It’s this aspect of the story that harks back to the ancient purpose of folk tales, where the dangers of ignorance, of wilful childishness and naivety, lead to being stuffed in a great big oven or eaten or something similarly nasty. It wasn’t until authors like the Brothers Grimm came along that folk tales became fairy tales and the children in them got a lot cleverer: clever enough to know the witch was up to no good, or Grandma was actually a wolf in Grandma’s clothes. In Last Quarter however, Mizuki does not want to escape the wolf’s clutches; the dangers Adam represents are an opt-out that she desperately craves, a knight in dark armour capable (she believes) of saving her from her broken family and her cheating boyfriend.
As with many manga to film efforts, the depth of complexity of the books tends to translate into a rushed or confused narrative in film. This does a little to start with, but it gains focus as the mystery unravels. In fact, the eventual parallels between this upside-down fairy tale and some of the more pressing concerns of society about its youth are more than clear and a little disturbing. Chiaki Kuriyama (Kill Bill, Battle Royale) is an emotionally remote character at first, but as the flaws in the narrative structure smooth out, she becomes much more accessible and shows an ability both greater and less brash than in her previous roles. Hyde is not nearly as approachable, but then Ai Yazawa romantic leads are always of the cool and aloof variety, so perhaps he’s being true to the character rather than just standoffish. His better moments happen in the flashbacks, and perhaps that’s an indication that he is indeed thinking about what he’s doing, because after the secrets about his character are revealed, the fact that he seems a little cold actually makes a lot more sense.
Ken Nikai, a director known for music videos with J-Rock bands like L’arc en Ciel, Pierrot and the Gospellers, has a dramatic eye for colour and composition, but some of the staginess of his scenes makes it hard to really feel for what is going on. It’s glossy and his approach is almost too pretty, a little contrived. Of course, this could be due to trying to translate the intricate and showy style of the manga art, which works as eye candy but not as drama. Truly shining in this film are the support cast – Hiroki Narimiya (Orange Days, Shinkyoku no Hitsuyo) as the sympathetic and determined boyfriend is particularly vital, as is Tomoka Kurokawa as the young accident victim who can see Mizuki and wants to help her — both providing some of the more affecting moments in the film.
Last Quarter is a little slow to start, but it yields emotion as it waxes to full. Inoffensive, challenging only in its subtext, and sweet in many ways, it’s an easy watch with an easy feel, nice to look at and moderately well done. And with its slightly deeper messages relating to escapism, responsibility and suicide, it’s possibly not so much pale as merely reflecting a light that might be too much to look at otherwise.