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Movie Review: Chokolietta

Japanese Title: チョコリエッタ
Release Date: January 17, 2015
Director: Kazama Shiori

Based on a novel written by Masami Ooshima, Chokolietta is a psychological drama that goes inside the head of a melancholic, traumatized girl living in her own world. This 2014 film was directed by Shiori Kazama and first premiered at the 2014 Tokyo International Film Festival.


Chokolietta. Giulietta. Which one is the dog? Which one is human?

In reality, she was just a high school student to whom life felt like a burden. To the unsmiling girl, death was “alright”. She kept her head shaved. She wore a lifeless expression. She was just a “dog”, nothing more.

But one day, she went to her film club’s room to look for a DVD of a film her mother had liked, Federico Felini’s La Strada. Her mother had even named their dog after one of the film’s actresses, Giulietta. As the dog Giulietta had just recently passed away, Chiyoko wanted to watch the film. She goes to Masaoka Masamune’s house to retrieve the DVD.

Masaoka was the kind of person who always held a camera. He would keep filming without caring about the discomfort of his subject, looking to get the raw expressions that he wanted. And for the movie that he was planning to make, he wanted Chiyoko as his muse. She rejected the idea at first, but upon watching an old movie that her mother was in, she agreed to be filmed by her senior, starring in his movie as “Chokolietta”.

Both of them had lost someone important in their lives. Both of them had a part of themselves caged in their past. Masaoka had lost his uncle; Chiyoko had lost her mother and her dog. Both of them decided take a journey and film themselves portraying the characters in Felini’s La Strada, getting out of their shells in the process and slowly figuring out who they were -- and who their real selves were.


Chokolietta, Federico Felini’s La Strada

La Strada is an old Italian film that tells the story of a simple-minded woman named Gelsomina who was sold by her family to an abusive man named Zampano.

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In La Strada, Giulietta Masina played the character Gelsomina who was treated like a dog by a man named Zampano. She also had the character traits of one in some instances. Despite Zampano’s sadism towards her, she remained loyal, obedient, and oblivious to the abuse that was being done to her. Her innocence protected her from truly grasping the full extent of her misfortunes before tragedy happened to her. This is probably why in Chokolietta, Chiyoko wanted to be a dog. She wanted to be Gelsomina. She wanted to emulate Gelsomina and her innocence. Chiyoko said that Masaoka was like Zampano-- but in reality, neither of them resembled the characters in Felini’s movie. They were totally different people.

Two Cents on the Actors

Chiyoko was portrayed effectively as a kid who is stuck in her own world. They did a good job here on casting Aoi Morikawa as Chokolietta. I first saw her in a movie called Kawaki and, although this is only the second time for me to see her in a film, I think that she is definitely a talented actress who can take on unusual roles.

Meanwhile, Masaki Suda is a protean actor. He is always invested in the roles that he is playing and that habit is evident in this film. From the way he pretends to sleep to the way he acts out his role as Masaoka, senior to Choko -- everything he does when he’s acting is done so naturally that it’s hard to see “him” as a separate person. This is one of the reasons he is considered by many as one of the best Japanese actors of his generation.

In addition, because of Aoi’s petite figure, she looked noticeably tiny next to Masaki. It resembled the height and body differences between female and male characters in a lot of Japanese comics. Noticing Masaki’s broad shoulders for the first time after watching a lot of his movies was so jarring that I couldn’t help but be amused.

The Verdict

The movie was about how two students struggled to try to find themselves in what they call a “shitty world”. Though the characters were confused as to where their life was headed, they learned to fight to live. Despite wanting to die or wanting to just fool around, they clawed their way out of the cursed life that was given to them. It is a movie about loss and the struggle of the characters to move on from it. For this alone, it is already a good movie for me.

Although it is a good movie to watch, it may be hard to understand for the viewers who haven’t watched Felini’s La Strada. Chiyoko’s way of thinking and the way the character behaves may also overwhelm and baffle audiences who cannot comprehend her reaction to unfortunate circumstances. For these reasons, I feel this is not a movie that is easily appreciated, but the sight of characters whose behaviors and ways of thinking deviate from what is usually seen in mainstream films is refreshing in its own way. These traits are reminiscent of certain types of real people, and watching this movie was somewhat nostalgic. In a sense, though these characters’ actions might seem “peculiar”, they are not “strange”. Give this movie a chance and, perhaps, you can find out whether Chokolietta truly was a dog or a girl.

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