Patrick Gamble

Berlin 2012: ‘The End of Puberty’ review

★★☆☆☆

An unique twist on the body-swap sub genre, Kimura Shoko’s debut film The End of Puberty (Koi ni itaru yamai, 2011) is a kooky comedy about a young girl and her biology teacher, who inexplicably find that they’ve exchanged sexual organs during intercourse – only in Japan could you find such an outlandish premise. Tsubara is an oddly obsessive young girl who chooses to only eat vitamin supplements and preservatives in order to prevent her body from decomposing once she dies – a metaphor for her longing to be loved and just one of many heavy handed attempts to convey issues of teenage confusion.

Indeed, Tsubara is the epitome of quirky, constantly finding herself unable to restrain her exuberant behaviour. She’s developed an attraction for her awkward biology teacher Mr. Madoko, and instead of paying attention to his lectures, spends her time in class observing his mannerisms and mood swings – constantly documenting his peculiar behaviour. Combining a mixture of hand drawn animation and a Super Nintendo inspired soundtrack the film’s first act is littered with identifiably Japanese filmmaking techniques – methods which whilst jovial and lighthearted fast become repetitive and painfully tedious.

The outlandish and ludicrous exchange of their private parts is intended to bring them together, with Tsubara believing it will make them inseparable. However, this plot device soon becomes an ‘elephant in the room’ with The End of Puberty not to play too much on the sexuality which comprises its core theme – an understandably safe approach considering the age of its immature cast. Escaping to the country in order to hide this unnatural occurrence, Mr. Madoko and Tsubara’s situation plays out like a kidnapping – however whilst Mr. Madako may be the one who’s dragged Tsubara away to his dead grandmother’s country home, it is her who has taken him captive with her scientifically impossible plot to make him her own.

The End of Puberty’s tone quickly becomes more serious with the introduction of Tsubara’s school friends En and Maru – introducing a welcome change to the dynamic of this comedy, transforming it into a more thoughtful exploration of sexuality and adolescent confusion. Indeed the moment the film’s irksome 16-bit computer game score is resigned we finally get to learn a little more about the film’s characters. Yet it happens too late, culminating in the on screen conflicts failing to evoke any interest from the audience, often relying on misguided melodrama and quickly becoming tiresome – revealing the numerous failings that hide behind the film’s whimsical façade.

A predictably weak ending, which confirmed the film’s enticing premise to be little more than a catchy marketing ploy results in The End of Puberty leaving a rather disappointing after taste. It quickly becomes clear that in its attempts to convey the sexual confusion which accompanies adolescence the film doesn’t know how best to approach its subject – unable to integrate its serious, more dramatic scenes with the comedy that precedes them. A promising and original debut that whilst showcasing a lot of character, fails in immersing the audience into its tale of teenage hardships and the ambiguous role of sex within society.

For more Berlin Film Festival 2012 coverage, simply follow this link.

Patrick Gamble