Delve into a colorful and charming world for this reboot of an early 00’s classic.

If you grew up reading manga in the early 2000s, then you’ve probably at least heard of xxxHolic, written by famed manga artist group CLAMP, who also authored the international hit Cardcaptor Sakura. The xxxHOLIC series was popular enough to inspire an anime series and film as well as a live-action TV series, and now, 11 years after the end of the serialization of the manga, production companies Shochiku and Asmik Ace Entertainment have worked together to produce a new live-action film based on the manga.

Our Japanese-language reporter and movie reviewer Kaori Saito recently went to see Holic xxxHOLIC, which was released in Japanese theaters on April 29. With a star-studded cast and an explosion of color unique to director Mika Ninagawa’s style, this film is a treat for the eyes, which, thankfully, makes up for its lackluster storytelling.

Holic xxxHOLIC tells the story of high school student Kimihiko Watanuki, played by Ryunosuke Kamiki, who has the undesirable ability to see ayakashi, or vengeful spirits. Plagued at every turn by angry ghosts, the miserable Watanuki one day follows a butterfly that leads him to a shop run by the alluring Yuko (Kou Shibasaki). Yuko promises to grant his wish of living a normal life in exchange for “the thing most precious to him”. Watanuki, unsure about what his most precious thing is, is uncertain about what to do.

In the end, he winds up helping out at Yuko’s shop, while he makes friends with Doumeki (Hokuto Matsumura from Johnny’s boyband SixTONES) and Himawari (Tina Tamashiro) at school. One day, he catches the eye of Jorogumo (Riho Yoshioka), who can control ayakashi spirits, and that’s where the real story begins.

The movie starts out with a pitch-black scene in which Watanuki is running from an ayakashi, so Kaori wondered if it was going to be a darker, more thrilling take on the story. But once Watanuki arrived at Yuko’s shop, the visuals took a 180-degree turn. From corner to corner, the set was decorated in reds, purples, and pinks, true to director Mika Ninagawa’s style. The artful use of colors in the shop really caught Kaori’s eye.

Yuko’s costumes were also exceedingly flashy and bright, and no one but Kou Shibasaki could pull them off as well as she did. The mysterious and beautiful air they gave Shibasaki left a strong impression on the viewer, and Shibasaki herself was an excellent addition to Ninagawa’s imaginative world; Kaori suspected she and Director Ninagawa were a match made in heaven.

The questions “What are ayakashi?” and “What is Yuko’s power?” are answered when Misaki, played by Shuri, comes to the shop for help. Misaki is a woman who can only lie to the people around her, so Yuko gives her an item that will keep her from telling any more lies. What happens after this really shows what Yuko is capable of, and how frightening the ayakashi can be.

Later we meet Jorogumo, who can control the ayakashi, as well as Akagumo, who worships her. They’re played by Miho Yoshioka and Hayato Isomura respectively, but the makeup and costuming are so thorough that you can’t actually tell who they are at first. Jorogumo is a strong, sexual woman with a penchant for sadism, and she doesn’t hesitate to go after Watanuki in her sexy outfits. It might have been Yoshioka’s most sexy role to date. The end credits named a specialist in directing sexy behavior, so Kaori had to wonder if that was just for directing Yoshioka.

Akagumo was a character original to this film, and the actor who played him, Hayato Isomura, had to work hard to act alongside Yoshioka. In an official interview, he was recorded as saying, “I had to pretend to experience sexy behavior for the first time, and that was challenging.” But he did a great job in creating a very enchanting persona. Kaori says that one of the great things about Ninagawa’s directing is that even her villains are charming.

28-year-old lead actor Ryunosuke Kamiki had the challenging role of playing a high school student, and Tina Tamashiro, who plays his friend from school, also in her twenties, faced the same difficulties. But because the film isn’t a school-life drama and it doesn’t try to pursue reality, it was easy for Kaori to suspend her belief a bit. Besides, this maturity of the characters gave the whole setting a unique feel.

Kamiki’s acting was perfect in that it was just right for the role. Without any overdramatic acting, his portrayal of Watanuki naturally invited the viewer into the world of the film. In addition, every shot he, Matsumura, and Tamashiro shared on screen together was beautiful, so Kaori had to appreciate his casting in the role.

But while the visuals were stunning and Ninagawa was right to believe in her own style and run with it, the execution of the story ended up being somewhat awkward. Throughout the film, the main character continued to be manipulated by the people around him, and though Kamiki truly put his all into the role and there was a small amount of growth for the character by the end of the film, it was hard to get a true idea of his character with so many abrupt things happening. It was also a shame that as the story progressed, it started to get more and more confusing.

Nevertheless, this film is full of lovely cinematography, costumes, and artistry that reflect the worldview of Mika Ninagawa, and the chemistry between the characters really adds to the gorgeous mystery of the whole setting. You’ll have to endure a somewhat meandering story, but the visuals just might be worth the trouble.

Related: Holic xxxHOLIC
Photos © 2022 Film Holic Production Committee
Film and materials © 2022 Film Holic Production Committee ©CLAMP・ShigatsuTsuitachi CO.,LTD./Kodansha 

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