(Susimiya Haruhi no Shoshitsu)
Directors – Tatsuya Ishihara & Yasuhiro Takemoto, Screenplay – Fumihiko Shimo, Based on the Haruhi Suzumiya Novels by Nagaru Tanigawa, Producers – Hideaki Hatta & Atsushi Itou, Photography – Ryuuta Nakagami, Music – Satoru Kousaki, Animation Directors – Shoko Ikeda & Futoshi Nishiya, Art Direction – Seiki Tamura. Production Company – Bandai Entertainment/Kadokawa Shoten Publishing Co/The Klock Worx Company/Kyoto Animation/Lantis.
Kyon is an average student at North High. He and several others belong to the SOS Club, led by the energetic and self-willed Haruhi Suzumiya. Haruhi is frequently prone to wild impulses and drags the others along with her on these. Haruhi now decides that she wants to organise a Christmas party. What Haruhi is not aware and the others keep from her is that she has vast reality bending powers and can alter the universe when she is upset. The other members of the group also have unique powers – the shy and withdrawn Yuki Nagato is an android who has the ability to manipulate the world; Mikuru Asashina is a time traveller from the future come back to observe Haruhi; and Itsuki Koizumi is an esper. On December 18th, Kyon wakes up and goes to school to find that Haruhi no longer exists. There is no SOS Club and the others lead their lives as normal people with no special abilities. In trying to find what happened, Kyon finds a mysterious bookmark that sends him on a quest to bring together the members of the SOS Club in this world. He then travels back through time to find the surprise cause of the creation of this alternate world.
The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya was my introduction to the world of Haruhi Suzumiya. I was not aware of the Haruhi Suzumiya phenomenon before this, which has been largely centred in Japan where the original stories have a popularity on the order of Harry Potter. The Haruhi Suzumiya saga started as a series of illustrated novels for young adults, beginning with The Sigh of Haruhi Suzumiya (2003) and stretches to twelve books in 2020. (The books are slim with all having less than ten chapters). There have been various manga adaptations of the books and several computer games, followed by the anime tv series The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya (2006-9), which adapted the first three books over two seasons.
The stories are centred around the SOS Club, which appears to be an ordinary after-school club led by Haruhi who is frequently prone to wild impulses. As becomes apparent, Haruhi has remarkable abilities to reorganise reality around her whenever she becomes upset, although does not know it. The point-of-view character Kyon and the others, who all have various fantastical abilities, cater to her impulses while also trying to prevent her causing major chaos whenever she becomes unhappy.
This film is based on the fourth of the books The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya (2004) and follows directly on from the tv series. The film comes with an amazing degree of backstory that proves bewildering for the uninitiated. For those who come to the film without any familiarity with the anime series or books, we have what appears to be the story of an average schoolboy who wakes up one morning to discover that a bright and lively student in his class no longer exists and that his other friends are now all different. Details then start slipping out that reveal a backstory about the original reality that seems utterly wild – we learn that Haruhi has amazing godlike powers that come into effect when she is upset; that Koizumi is a time-traveller; that the shy bespectacled Yuki is an alien android; talk of how Asakura previously tried to kill Kyon; or how a visit to Yuki’s apartment in the past reveals copies of Kyon and Mikuru frozen in stasis in the guest bedroom. All of these refer back to the continuity established by the tv series but are baffling if you come to the film knowing nothing about this.
Directors Tatsuya Ishihara and Yasuhiro Takemoto both come from making numerous episodes of the tv series. They place an extraordinary artistry into the film, lavishing an enormous amount of detail to create authentically detailed Japanese streets and backgrounds of the schoolrooms. There is an undeniable irony to this – the Haruhi Suzumiya saga involves all manner of mind-boggling concepts – aliens, androids, time travel, teenage girls with godlike reality bending powers. Most films based on a tv series use the bigger budget afforded by the film version to expand out and show things more lavishly than they could on the small screen. Contrarily, the film has for the bulk of its running time chosen to focus all of its artistic detail on the creation of a world that is wholly mundane and where none of the fantastical happenings in the rest of the series are going on.
Elsewhere, the film is a return to the 1970s style of anime featuring child-like characters with giant oversized eyes that take up nearly half their head. However, rather than a typical shoujo anime – say something like Sailor Moon (1992-2000) – the film has an oddly slow and melancholy tone and spends much of its surprisingly long running time (163 minutes) reflecting on inner states. This is surprising, given that The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya seems in all other regards to be pitched as a typical shoujo anime for adolescents. The filmmakers appear to have approached it as an adult work, especially in giving such an extraordinary degree of artistic detail to the depiction of the ordinary world around the characters. You cannot help but wonder who they thought the audience for the film would be. For all that, one should not complain, as the results are quite lovely.
A general observation could be made that any fantastic tv series that turns up an alternate world scenario where its familiar characters play different roles can be said to be one that is running creatively thin and needs to add some novelty (or give the lead actors something different to play). (For more detail see Alternate Timelines). That said, The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya lets its premise play out in extraordinary ways.
When we eventually come to understand what has happened [PLOT SPOILERS] – how a lonely android has regarded the emotions it has discovered in its system as an imperfection and where the hero is eventually handed the choice between whether he wants a world of dull mundanity or one of perpetual craziness where he must run around tending the whims of Haruhi – these revelations unfold with a beautiful logic and an extraordinary tenderness to the writing. There is also an absolutely lovely ending where Kyon stands up to defend the sad, lonely android girl Yuki and promises that if they ever consider substituting anything else he will stir up Haruhi and get her to unleash absolute chaos against them. In this sense, the Haruhi Suzumiya series remains worlds ahead of the Harry Potter series in terms of the depth of its writing.