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Hinokio: Inter Galactic Love – Japan R2 (SHV) vs Hong Kong R3 (AVP)
9th March 2006

Hinokio Comparison Review
Rating/Certificate: Japan N/A
Region: 2
DVD Release Date: 25th November 2005
Run Time: 111 Minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Anamorphic: Yes
Colour: Yes
Video Signal: NTSC
Disc Type: Single Sided, Dual Layer
Genre: Drama
Soundtrack: Dolby Digital 5.1 Japanese
Subtitles: English, Japanese
Extra Features: Premiere Footage, Behind the Scenes Documentary, CGI Featurette, Conceptual Teaser, Trailers, Cast Information
Easter Egg: No
Director: Takahiko Akiyama
Starring: Kanata Hongo, Mikako Tabe
Related Movies: Jam Films, Jam Films 2, Hana and Alice, Sekai no Chushin de

Hinokio Comparison Review
Rating/Certificate: Hong Kong I
Region: 3
DVD Release Date: 22nd December 2005
Run Time: 111 Minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Anamorphic: Yes
Colour: Yes
Video Signal: NTSC
Disc Type: Single Sided, Dual Layer
Genre: Drama
Soundtrack: Dolby Digital 5.1 EX Japanese, DTS-ES 6.1 Japanese, Dolby Digital 5.1 EX Cantonese
Subtitles: English, Chinese
Extra Features: Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: Takahiko Akiyama
Starring: Kanata Hongo, Mikako Tabe
Related Movies: Jam Films, Jam Films 2, Hana and Alice, Sekai no Chushin de


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Feature
A fatal accident kills a woman and leaves her son, Satoru, partially paralysed and confined to a wheelchair. Unable to tolerate his condition, the junior high school pupil isolates himself from the outside world. In consequence, his father builds a remote controlled robot for Satoru to operate using a virtual reality style layout. The futuristic marvel is designed to help Satoru attend school, communicate with other children and possibly make friends. Inheriting the nickname “Hinokio” (Hinoki is a type of Japanese wood), Satoru struggles to achieve acceptance, as he endures constant pranks by tomboy Jun and her mini-gang. Eventually, Hinokio’s popularity earns him respect and friendship amongst the school crowd. However when they request to meet the boy controlling the robot, Satoru’s fear and anger keep his true identity a secret.

Hinokio Comparison Review
It is easy to dismiss Hinokio: Inter Galactic Love as yet another peculiar Japanese creation fused with melodrama. In reality, first time director, Takahiko Akiyama, paints a colourful portrait of social isolation – a reciprocal issue shared by a community always on the verge of breakthrough technology. The protagonist, Satoru, discovers solitude thanks to the robotic splendour; he lives his life in a virtual environment to such an extent that he despises human contact. As exaggerated as Akiyama’s vision may be, many individuals are guilty of exhibiting similar behaviour. Examining the internet for example; it is a haven for the anonymous, allowing one to hide behind fabricated personas and spend hours roaming this online illusion. Questions are asked as to whether artificial reality can really fulfil life’s greatest requirements. The fantasy element is played out rather nicely thanks to the film’s inbuilt RPG known as Purgatory, which later becomes a metaphoric connection between fact and fiction.

A closer observation will reveal intertwining spiritual and philosophical subtexts but the relationship angle remains a principal motive in driving the premise. The aforementioned themes originate from society’s dependence on modern technology; Akiyama’s way of carefully relating his subjects to a common source. Satoru greatly blames his father for his mother’s demise and likewise, his father’s behaviour has adjusted to the deafening silence. Neither party is willing to make the first move in breaking the barrier. Similarly when Hinokio’s friends wish to meet the boy behind the robot, Satoru’s fear of disappointment is too much for him to bear. The director has certainly utilised every opportunity to develop the characters but leaves one or two open ends. With the wealth of ideas portrayed throughout the film, it is inevitable that certain resolutions will not be met. A decision that I found most effective was to keep Satoru’s character silent, having him communicate via Hinokio’s voice box. Sadly this mute approach was lost during the middle of the film; the first time that we hear Satoru speaking should have left a larger emotional impact.

Hinokio Comparison Review
Hinokio’s strength lies in maintaining a consistent healthy balance of comedy and melodrama, as well as dialogue and eye-candy segments. The humour is well suited and completely intentional, if a little unorthodox. Being a family movie, one would not really expect to see a romantic encounter between human and machine. Somehow, the Japanese filmmakers manage to execute this notion with complete innocence and still generate those laughs. Moreover, the story delves into unexpectedly poignant chapters, where the sentimental encounters seem justified.

The producers have assembled a largely youthful cast to handle the roles of the school children. Every actor appears to be professional and a quick search reveals that most have a history in the Japanese entertainment industry. The performances are remarkably animated, especially Ryo Kato and Ryoko Kobayashi as the hyperkinetic Kenta and overzealous Sumire respectively. However the two leads deserve eternal praise for their solid portrayals of Satoru and Jun, demonstrating sincere warmth and responsiveness in their performances.

Akiyama’s experience in visual effects is made apparent thanks to his hypnotic grasp of colour, lighting and computer generated imagery. He employs different pallets to differentiate between reality and fantasy. Hinokio appears to be a seamless mixture of puppetry and CGI, although the quality is of such high standard that it is difficult to tell. The Purgatory scenes are rendered to simulate a video game but the visuals reach their climax once the fantasy element becomes predominant. Takahiko Akiyama has done well to showcase aesthetically pleasing effects alongside thought provoking morals. It is not always easy to access Japanese cinema but to let Hinokio slip by unnoticed would be a wasted opportunity.

Hinokio Comparison Review
Video
The Japanese SHV disc presents the film in an anamorphic widescreen format, maintaining an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The image is of reasonable sharpness, depicting foreground objects with admirable clarity. Similarly, one should not have an issue with secondary details, such as fabric composition or environmental setting. Saturation levels vary depending on the viewpoint of the character, where the real and imaginary worlds appear under and oversaturated respectively. As a result, the pallet does not really cover a natural range of colours; skin tones appear somewhat pale and there is evidence of slight smearing. In addition, the contrast balance is pushed higher than usual and the blacks are swaying slightly towards the lighter side. Aside from that, the Japanese disc is free of major discomforts that originate from the video encoding process.

The HK disc from AVP is virtually a carbon copy of its Japanese counterpart, except it shows a fraction more image at the top. Conversely, it loses the same fraction at the bottom. Examining it under a microscope will reveal areas exhibiting slightly harsher steps in colour transition but one would risk serious eye damage if concentrating on that for too long. Hinokio is solid evidence that AVP can provide healthy representations of recently released Japanese titles; they are a label to watch out for.

Hinokio Comparison Review
Japan Region 2 (SHV)


Hinokio Comparison Review
Hong Kong Region 3 (AVP)


Hinokio Comparison Review
Japan Region 2 (SHV)


Hinokio Comparison Review
Hong Kong Region 3 (AVP)


Hinokio Comparison Review
Japan Region 2 (SHV)


Hinokio Comparison Review
Hong Kong Region 3 (AVP)


Hinokio Comparison Review
Japan Region 2 (SHV)


Hinokio Comparison Review
Hong Kong Region 3 (AVP)


Hinokio Comparison Review
Japan Region 2 (SHV)


Hinokio Comparison Review
Hong Kong Region 3 (AVP)


Audio
The SHV disc contains a single Japanese Dolby Digital 5.1 track, whereas AVP opt for Japanese Dolby Digital 5.1 EX and DTS-ES 6.1 options. The soundtrack is quite music driven so it is vital to ensure a healthy dynamic balance between melody and dialogue. Thankfully this is maintained without interference or distortion on both Dolby mixes. Despite not being action heavy, the rears still manage to recreate a fully dimensional audio experience – out of screen characters can be located with ease and ambient noise is generated with the utmost precision. Furthermore, the LFE contribution is delightfully fulfilling, providing a richer texture to an already extravagant score. 6.1 users may feel disappointed, as the DTS-ES mix offers little, if any, improvements. Even the additional rear-centre channel is far too disguised to offer any distinguishable qualities.

Just like the video transfer, differences in the audio are too marginal for concern. Both discs exhibit similar separation, surround effects and dynamic balance, although DTS enthusiasts may be more persuaded by the AVP disc. It also has a Cantonese dub in Dolby Digital 5.1 EX, which is of decent quality as far as dubbing goes. Lip movement is synchronised and the volume alteration is undetectable. The optional English subtitles are identical and are fine to read with excellent translation.

Extras
Examining the Japanese SHV disc, there is a 7m Q&A session from the film’s premiere. The director and young actors manage to discuss specific areas of the film that the Japanese press are interested in. They have even managed to provide a fully operational Hinokio robot to appear on stage.

Next up is a highly informative 10m behind the scenes documentary, comprising of interviews and a wealth of production footage. It is interesting to observe how key scenes were pieced together, as well as the creative diversity of these talented filmmakers. In addition, the documentary also highlights the video game angle and provides an insight into the wonderfully composed score. Lastly, one or two actors struggle to fight back those tears as they receive flower bouquets during the final day of filming.

Hinokio Comparison Review
Following swiftly is another 10m featurette, focusing on the CGI and motion capture involvement. Any questions one has about the creation of Hinokio will be fully answered here. It is relatively easy to follow, using images and videos to illustrate the special effects. Different stages are played side by side, ranging from early pre-rendered shots to the final product. In fact, a similar technique was used to create many Star Wars characters from Episodes I to III. Evidently, the quality of CGI is truly remarkable and amazingly seamless. Even with this featurette, it is still difficult to spot where puppetry ends and CGI begins.

Next is a very early teaser trailer, which features completely different actors with the exception of Ryo Kato and Kanata Hongo who play Kenta and Satoru respectively. The quality of special effects is ropey and there are some scenes not featured in the final film. It would be nice to find out the history behind Hinokio’s production.

A few more trailers and cast information finish off the list of supplements on the Japanese disc. It should be noted that the text is in Japanese and there are no English subtitles for the extra materials.

The Hong Kong disc only has trailers.

Hinokio Comparison Review
Overall
Hinokio is an entertaining reflection of Japan’s technological creativity, combining sublime visuals with sociological subtexts and captivating messages. The unconventional subject matter and over-sentimentality may appear awkward but this typically Japanese concept has the potential to communicate on a global scale. Director Takahiko Akiyama blurs the line between reality and fantasy, both literally and figuratively; his unique imagination will be duly noticed in future productions.

The differences between the two discs are not governed by the audio and video transfers, but instead by supplementary materials. The Japanese region two has some lovely extras, albeit without subtitles. Conversely, the HK disc is a nice option for those who simply want to watch the film, which appears to have been ported from the Japanese DVD. The choice is solely dependant on the individual’s personal requirements.

Japan Region 2
HK Region 3
Film:88
Video:88
Audio:77
Extras:71
Overall:87


You can purchase Hinokio: Inter Galactic Love from CD Japan and Yes Asia for around $32.54 and $14.49 respectively.

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