Call Me Chihiro (2023) Movie Full Review

Call Me Chihiro A long, slow but heartfelt story about connection

Call Me Chihiro is a sincere film about connection and loneliness, accompanied by serene visuals and soothing music. But it goes on much longer than it needs to, and Chihiro, the protagonist and soul of the film, lacks a bit of punch.

Based on a manga, the film follows the life of Chihiro, a former sex worker who now works at a bento store in a small coastal town. The film's story follows Chihiro as she meanders through life, exploring the town's various residents and making connections.

Call Me Chihiro (2023) Movie Review

Call Me Chihiro is a beautiful study in slice-of-life filmmaking. The cinematography highlights the everyday nature of the story through hypnotic shots of the sea, the city's public spaces, and even the clothes flapping in the wind. In most scenes, the characters do nothing more exciting than eat or talk. Food and eating play an important role. 

The small town thus appears as an idyllic paradise, where time passes slowly and at the end of the day peace reigns. But the drawback is that in this world, time passes a little too slowly. The shots don't linger, they stretch out over several seconds, until we are already waiting for the next scene.

Call Me Chihiro Official Netflix Trailer

The connections that Chihiro makes are central to the story. A central idea that Chihiro mentions is that people are actually aliens placed in human bodies, each from a different planet. But every once in a while, you meet someone who is from the same planet as you. It's messages like this - intensely relatable insights into today's society - that stick with you long after the film is over.

Among the people she meets are an old homeless man with whom she shares some meals, two schoolgirls named Okaji and Betchin, who each have problems with their families, and a little boy named Makoto who is being raised by a working mother. There is also Basil, an old friend of Chihiro's, and Utsumi, her former employer, as well as the bento store owner and his wife Tae.

It is truly heartwarming to see Chihiro approach these people with kindness and joy and to see them open up to her. Not only does she seem to bring out the best in everyone, but she also brings them closer together, forming a small community by the end of the film. Kasumi Arimura's performance as Chihiro is neat and subtle. She mixes elements of a difficult past and a compassionate character with ease, without ever seeming overly dramatic.

Call Me Chihiro (2023) Movie

Despite the focus on everyday life, Call Me Chihiro ends up falling into the trap of the pixie dream girl manic. Chihiro starts out as an ordinary, cheerful girl, but becomes a mysterious soul drowning in loneliness. Chihiro is very much surrounded by good and caring people who seem to appreciate and love her in various ways. 

But she only gives and never receives. She helps others but does not foster connection with herself. What is infuriating is that we don't really know why. While there are hints of a troubled past and a toxic mother, we never get a full explanation.

This is a shame, because it makes many of these wonderfully healthy relationships seem a bit one-sided.  Worse, it makes Chihiro a somewhat utopian character and like so many manic dream girls, serving others and opening them up to the joys of life, but not herself. Personally, I would have enjoyed the film more if Chihiro had been less mysterious and more realistic. 

However, the subtlety of the film and its use of interpretation might lead other viewers to see her in a different light. In the end, Chihiro's enigma becomes more of a stylistic choice than a narrative one.

Call Me Chihiro (2023) Plot Synopsis

Based on a manga, Call Me Chihiro follows the life of a woman named Chihiro. A former sex worker, she quits her job and moves to a small coastal town, where she works at a bento shop and mingles with the local population. The quintessential lifestyle film, Call Me Chihiro focuses on the daily life of its bright and cheerful protagonist and the people she meets.

She dates a homeless old man and shares several meals with him, but he soon passes away. She meets a teenage girl, Okaji, who seems to admire her, but who also has to deal with problems with her overbearing father. She also meets Betchin, another schoolgirl who hides from her family and spends her time reading books and manga.

Call Me Chihiro (2023)

Chihiro also meets Makoto, a little boy raised by a single working woman. Basil, a friend of hers who works as a singer and dancer in a pub, visits her. They then run into Chihiro's former employer, Utsumi. Chihiro also develops a close relationship with the owner of the bento store where she works and his wife, Tae, who has recently lost her eyesight.

Here's everything you need to know about the ending of Call Me Chihiro!

What is the story of Chihiro?

We don't spend much time in Chihiro's past, but the film does reveal some important elements. Early in the film, she receives a phone call from her brother informing her that their mother has died. She does not react to the news and tells him that she will not attend the funeral. Her relationship with her brother also seems distant.

A flashback shows a young Chihiro sitting outside on some steps, eating messy sushi rolls made with her own hands. A woman in a lavish dress observes her, approaches and asks for a piece of sushi. She tells the girl that it is good. They walk together and before they part, the woman introduces herself as Chihiro.

Utsumi later reveals that when Chihiro came to the massage parlor, she looked like an ordinary woman, but her shoes were dirty and worn. If she hadn't walked through that door that day, she might not be alive today. In the flashback, when Utsumi asks her what name she wants to use, she answers Chihiro.

How does Chihiro change the lives of the people around her?

Call Me Chihiro is a film about life, not ending every plot and not resolving every conflict. Instead of focusing on distinct endings, the film highlights the characters and how they have grown and, ideally, would continue to grow even after the story ends.

Okaji still has problems with her parents, but she finally gets to enjoy a hot meal at Makoto's house, to the point of tears. Makoto finds new ways to get closer to her working mother, who in turn recognizes and appreciates her qualities even more. Chihiro dissuades Basil from pursuing Utsumi, but the two men have a good relationship and seem to keep meeting.

Call Me Chihiro

The day before Tae is released from the hospital, Chihiro sneaks her out and takes her for a drive. They sit in the car and listen to the rain, a sound that Tae finds thrilling. Chihiro remembers meeting Tae the night she left her job and came to town. It was raining and Tae had offered her some chicken with her bento. She says that at that moment, she knew that Tae was from the same planet as her. This is only the second person to make her feel this way, after the original Chihiro.

Chihiro also talks to Tae about her mother's death and how she felt nothing. She says that she might have been different if she had been born as Tae's daughter. Tae tells her that she is wonderful the way she is and hugs her.

Is Chihiro leaving town?

The next night, all the people Chihiro met gather for an outdoor dinner to celebrate Tae's return from the hospital. The bento owner, Tae, Nagai, Okaji, Betchin, Maktoto, Basil and Utsumi are all present. Everyone starts a lively conversation, the atmosphere is warm and friendly.

Suddenly, Chihiro leaves the party and walks alone in the street. Tae, who realizes it, calls her and tells her that she felt her leave. 

She knows that Chihiro is planning to go back to a faraway place, but advises her not to do so. She tells her to put down roots in this town, because no matter how far she travels, she will always cling to her loneliness. Chihiro does not respond but bursts into tears at the end of the call.

Call Me Chihiro (2023) Movie Full Review

The next scene shows us a sign announcing a vacancy for a part-time employee in the bento store. The store owner and Tae are peeling acorns together. The owner tells Tae about the time he interviewed Chihiro. After asking her some questions, he left her alone for a few minutes, giving her a bento box to eat during that time. He said that the way she savored all the contents of the box was a sure sign that she was a good person.

How does Call Me Chihiro end?

The last scene of the film shows Chihiro in another town, where she works as a farmhand. The farmer tells her that she is good with animals and asks her where she has worked before. She answers that she worked in a bento store.

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