With the likes of Rare Exports and Tokyo Godfathers becoming cult classics around this time of year, and after a handful have cropped up in the past, this year’s Alternative Christmas Film Advent Calendar focuses solely on foreign language/ non-English Christmas films. Some simply less heard of around the world, and in some cases their home country, while others aren’t deeply rooted in the season. And so, via this year’s Calendar, let’s go abroad for this year’s Christmas vacation.
The penultimate day of this year’s calendar has arrived and finally it brings something lighter with more traditional Christmas elements. As mentioned each day so far, Tokyo Godfathers has become something of a cult classic each Christmas, however today we head to Japan for another animated festive offering in the form of The Disappearance Of Haruhi Suzumiya.
It takes a while to realise the lines that The Disappearance Of Haruhi Suzumiya is travelling down. Not that it’s difficult to engage with, more that the recognisable elements are kept at bay by the mystery of the narrative. As teenager Kyon (Tomokazu Sugita) tries to work out not only why none of his friends seem to recognise him, but also the impact they’ve had on his life – particularly school SOS Brigade leader Haruhi (Aya Hirano) who appears to have completely disappeared from the world – gradually themes similar to the likes of It’s A Wonderful Life begin to come through. Yet, as the film asks whether Kyon is in an alternate world, the same with nobody recognising him or something entirely different such thoughts are pushed away as you simply get caught up in the frantic search for answers.
One which takes place in the build-up to Christmas, which the SOS Brigade were preparing for with plans to attend events as the decorations were being pinned around the ordered schoolroom – despite Kyon’s cynicism. The cold is setting in as the snow falls yet despite festive traditions still occurring order is lacking for the central figure as he feels he may run out of time to find answers, as if the big day is the cut off point for him returning to normality.
It’s as the film begins to play with its sci-fi leanings, alongside fantasy elements with the various humanoid figures who pop up throughout the film, that elements relating to not just It’s A Wonderful Life but also A Christmas Carol appear. Time travel becomes a possible explanation, leading Kyon to confront his various relationships with his friends who he initially somewhat dismissed – despite turning up to see them each day in their usual meeting room. All made more engaging by the bright animation which runs throughout, yet still managing to capture the cold wintry environment in which the film takes place; particularly once the big change happens relatively early on in the run-time. We get the build up we need and then off the plot goes along its course.
There’s plenty to enjoy within the finely animated worlds which the film presents. Covering up familiar themes through the stylings of the narrative it may not be the most deeply-rooted in the festive season but there’s certainly enough elements throughout to provide such feelings. Well worth putting in the time (currently it sits as the third longest animated film ever at 2 hours and 42 minutes) it takes to tell its detailed and occasionally reminiscent of Christmas classics story.
The Disappearance Of Haruhi Suzumiya can be watched in the following places:
To see if the film is available anywhere else, outside of physical releases, JustWatch lists most platforms in various countries.