Coming-of-age films and road trips make for an extremely suitable combo as both are never about their destinations but the experiences and lessons learnt along the way. Our Huff and Puff Journey, the latest from youth-focused filmmaker Daigo Matsui (who last year dazzled with his Seiko Oomori-laden social-media obsessed teen pop film, Wonderful World End), is, as its title would have you believe, very much about the journey that its four heroines go through in order to see and meet their favourite band in the world — the Japanese rock outfit, Creephyp.
Like Wonderful World End, this too is essentially a promo for another music act yet that doesn’t stop Matsui and his captivating cast of young actresses from making Our Huff and Puff Journey a genuine film about friendship and growing up. Capturing youth on screen with absolute verve, Matsui once again employs similar techniques that made his previous film such a joyous ode to being young.
Alternating between mobile phone cameras, digital handycams and proper cameras for bigger storytelling moments, Matsui’s constant switching between different recording formats hardly feels jarring and helps authenticate a lot of the film’s charm. The opening moments of the film where we’re first introduced to the girls, Chie (Saku Mayama), Ichinose (Sonoko Inoue), Sattsun (Reika Oozeki) and Fumiko (Toko Miura), is all captured on a digital handycam for example, and functions as a means to bring us even closer to the girls by inviting us into their circle. Social media once again plays a big part in informing the world of the film though its presence isn’t quite as overwhelming as it was in Wonderful World End.
When the girls set off on their journey, all seems to be quite well. They have a nice moment where they jump across a border inside an underground tunnel that connects them from the southern island of Kyushu to the main island of Honshu and truly don’t mind sleeping on the streets so long as they have each other’s company. But things begin to take a bit of a darker turn once it dawns on the girls just how futile their efforts to traverse the Japanese landscape is on bicycles and when their funds start to take a hit.
The girls turn to hostessing for some quick cash to help them in their journey but only two of the girls are selected for their looks, leaving the other two to wait around in a stranger’s apartment once the job is done. Without having the characters necessarily address it, Matsui, unafraid to let his film slide into darker terrain, quietly acknowledges what growing up and being an adult might mean for these girls once they finish high school. A similar occurrence happens later on in the film in a scene where nasty online comments are made after an image of the girls begging for help goes viral. This scene precipitates one of the Our Huff and Puff Journey‘s best moments where the girls’ friendship is tested as they argue over the troubles they’ve faced in their journey and their true loyalties both to each other and to the band they’re pursuing.
Though their big argument may seem petty to a viewing audience, the language employed and the drama feels true. This moment, and by extension most of the film, carries a weight of honesty and veracity which boils down to two things: Matsui’s keenly observed script and his leading actresses. Matsui’s script is filled with the kind of hyperbolic language that teenagers throw at one another and completely adds to Our Huff and Puff Journey‘s acute sense of authenticity. His actresses deliver their lines without any affectation and as a result, they each turn in extremely natural and charming performances. There are hardly any weak spots here and it’s a testament both to the performers and the filmmaker behind them that they are all able to bring out such a warm dynamic to the film that’s both affirming for its characters and the viewing audience.
In one of the film’s most poignant moments, we see the girls take one final walk across a road and the resulting scene is powerfully earnest. That long, heavy walk doesn’t just signal the near-completion of their journey; it’s also symbolic of their youth. Once they let that go, it’s hard to get back — when else are they collectively going to be able to naively pine over a band that they adore in their lifetime or abandon responsibility to take on an adventure like this?
Though its origins may have been steeped in promotion for Creephyp, Our Huff and Puff Journey takes on a life of its own and like its finale suggests, is not about the band at all and absolutely about the girls we’ve followed for the entire film. In his efforts to realise the teenage experience on film, Matsui has once again successfully tapped into the id of the modern Japanese teenager in a film that wears its heart on its sleeve, and is at once an endearing and sobering story of fleeting youth and adventure.