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Harajuku (2018) - Film Analysis

Updated: Sep 16, 2020

Reflections on Harajuku by a Japanese viewer

Scene from the Norwegian film Harajuku (2018). It shows a teenage girl walking through Tokyo streets.

Harajuku is a Norwegian film from 2018, directed by Eirik Svensson. It tells the story of the teenage girl Vilde, who dreams about running away from her life in Oslo. Every day she imagines colorful cosplay kids in a far-away utopia: Harajuku.

Harajuku was screened at Tokyo Northern Lights Festival in Febuary 2020, a festival dedicated to Nordic films alone. In the side streets of Shibuya we went to see the film in a Japanese setting. The following paragraphs are the interpretation of Harajuku from a Japanese perspective:

«It wasn't Harajuku she was longing for.

A concrete jungle drenched in vulgar neon lights. Even the vile and the grotesque seem so easily swallowed by the neverending chaos of the metropolis. The unnatural mix of tradition and ultramodern has become a natural reflection of the Tokyo cityscape, a peaceful harmony in the midst of chaos.

Her desire for approval will never be fulfilled.

Dark winter nights with no end in sight; massive stone skyscrapers, take your breath away; and the crushing weight of Christmas traditions.

When estranged from the world, her urge for attention got out of control. A desperate dilemma: The «me» she wanted to see could never come to be.

Any stranger is treated with the utmost hospitality in Tokyo, as long as they are ready to consume. Outsiders, however, can never become one with society. Centuries of isolation left the land with skeptical eyes for all things unfamiliar. The very same people whose Utopia might be Scandinavia’s Oslo.

Utopia is believed to be an escape from depressions, to be free from fake smiles and false hospitality. If you came to see this film, longing for images from a Utopia ranking high on your happiness scale, you will probably be disappointed.

Ines Høysæter Asserson and Nicolai Cleve Broch in the movie Harajuku (2018).

So, the same problems exist in Utopia…

It's not only our protagonist girl who suffers. Also, her mother, her father, his family; no-one ever catches the bluebird of happiness. Ironically, the leading girl has dyed her hair in the very same symbolizing color of the bird. As if to say, it is just a dream that will not come true. It’s like a metaphor for the delusion that plays repeatedly in her head.

The other characters are portrayed just as self-absorbed as Vilde. Soon enough, we realize that their terrible misfortune is something grotesque that was created by their own spirits. It was not made by changes in their environment, like the mutant monster Godzilla. This beast lives within us all.»

Harajuku stars Ines Høysæter Asserson as Vilde, Nicolai Cleve Broch as her father, and Ingrid Olava as her father's new wife. The film was nominated for nine Norwegian Amanda Awards, and won the prize for the best film editing and the best sound editing.

By now, Harajuku has run its course at the cinemas. Hopefully, it will become available to our readers on both English and Japanese streaming services, or at least in physical format in all regions. The film was shown on JAL flights from Europe to Tokyo in 2019, so check out your entertainment system, if ever intercontinental flights get back to normal.

Movie poster for the Norwegian film «Harajuku» from 2018.
Harajuku - Who are there for you?

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