People Who Talk to Plushies are Kind
Director: Yurina Kaneko
Starring: Gaku Hosokawa, Kanata Hosoda, Ren Komai, Yuzumi Shintani
I can tell you now, Fantasia International Film Festival 2023 boasts some of the best film titles I have seen in a while, and Yurina Kaneko’s delightfully titled People Who Talk to Plushies are Kind is another addition to its lexicon of wonderful names. Based on Ao Omae’s short story of the same name, Plushies delivers what it says on the tin - people talking to plushies! This isn’t a laugh-a-minute buddy comedy about characters going on wild adventures with toys, instead, it is something far more personal, and, dare I say, far more Japanese.
"There’s an unhurried approach to the use of shots and overall pacing that almost feels as if Kaneko is trying to put the viewer at ease as much as the plushies do for our characters."
Japanese culture isn’t widely known for being overly expressive in terms of social interactions and fervor, instead leaning towards a more cautious, respectful approach - courtesy, and civility are more the order. Of course, there are always exceptions to any rules, but Plushies sees a group of college students using their plushies as a conduit to communicate their inner thoughts and feelings, ones which they otherwise struggle to convey to other humans. This takes place at the college’s Plushie Club and attracts a small, but committed, group of students who bond together over their shared need for expression. Everyone in the club, including Nanmori (Hosoda), Mugito (Komai), Tarayama (Hosokawa), and Yui (Shintani), can be classed as shy and socially-awkward but the film does take time to visit the reasons behind each character's reserved introverted nature. In doing so, Plushies touches on themes including sexual harassment, patriarchy, and depression and whilst these aren’t always handled with particular depth, they do offer a counter to the soft, cozy feeling that the film exudes otherwise. There is conflict but at its core - Plushies is very much a social and cultural commentary on ones willingness to open up to another, overcoming suppressed feelings, and the perception of women - but, largely, this is a comforting movie in many ways - from the calming score to the confident filmmaking, and the pedestrian pacing. The visual language of the film only enhances this feeling, there’s an unhurried approach to the use of shots and overall pacing that almost feels as if Kaneko is trying to put the viewer at ease as much as the plushies do for our characters.
Plushies doesn’t deliver anything that is necessarily game-changing, but it does provide us with an intimate glimpse into the lives of those who find solace in objects that simply absorb their words. The plushies can’t (and don’t) talk back or offer any gestures of reassurance to anyone, but their sheer silent acceptance is enough for our characters here. The absence of pure cynicism is welcome too, sure the film tackles weighty subjects, but the idea of Plushie Club or people needing an inanimate vice isn’t sneered at or frowned upon. It’s heartwarming at times.
People Who Talk to Plushies are Kind is as endearing as the title would suggest without ever really being anything outside of that. But that’s OK because it didn’t need to be, it's just fine as it is.
August 1st 2023