Yoshida is a 26-year-old Tokyo salaryman. Having spent most of his life alone, he has developed the ability to live independently; however, despite being valued by his employer for his diligence and willingness to help others, Yoshida has only one real friend – his workmate, Hashimoto – and lives a slightly dilapidated life from his small, one-bedroom apartment. Yoshida does, however, harbour romantic feelings toward Airi Gotō, an older, attractive woman who also happens to be his supervisor. But when he finally reveals his feelings for her, she lets him down as gently as she can, telling him (untruthfully) that she is already in a relationship. Yoshida responds in the time-honoured manner, staying up late at night drinking away his sorrows. Having missed the last train, he has to make his way home on foot; but in a street near his apartment, he encounters a teenage girl wearing the uniform of a high school senior. When Yoshida reprimands her for being out on her own so late and tells her to go home, she responds that she has no-where to go, adding that she’ll let him have sex with her if he agrees to let her stay at his apartment that night. Taken aback, Yoshida rebuffs her, but nonetheless lets her stay the night. At his apartment, he again rejects her advances; as he drifts into a drunken slumber, he mutters that the only thing he wants is miso soup made by a woman. The next morning, Yoshida wakes to find his rather grubby apartment has been thoroughly cleaned; moreover, the girl has made him miso soup. As they have breakfast, Yoshida learns that her name is Sayu Ogiwara; he is horrified to discover that she is a runaway from the northern prefecture of Hokkaido, and has spent the last six months wandering aimlessly around Tokyo, trading sex for temporary accommodation. Yoshida again berates her, telling Sayu that she needs to hold herself to a better standard: if she doesn’t want to go to school, she has to work; her ”rent” will be doing the few small chores around the apartment. And so they begin a strange life together, Yoshida wandering what lies behind her plastic smile, while Sayu wonders when the inevitable demands for sex will begin. Eventually, Sayu manages to get a part-time job at a local convenience store, where she is befriended by Asami Yūki, a girl Sayu’s age who dreams of being a novelist. But just as a semblance of normality beckons, the ghosts from Sayu’s past emerge, threatening to disclose the horrifying events that prompted her to become a runaway, and confronting her with the reality that what she thought she’d left behind will only have to be faced up to all over again….
Based on a series of illustrated novels by Shimesaba and Booota, “Higehiro: After Being Rejected, I Shaved and Took In a High School Runaway” was produced by Dream Shift and animated by studio Project No.9, first appearing on Japanese television in April 2021. Animated in a conventional manner that combines manga-esque character designs with realistic geographic settings, “Higehiro” takes what at first glance appears to be a creepy and disturbing premise and weaves from it a warm-hearted and frequently moving narrative, in which two rather forlorn people learn to not only trust themselves, one another, and the world, but also develop the strength to confront the various truths about who they are and how they came to be in their present circumstances. Along the way, the story takes us into some dark territory that explores live issues in contemporary Japanese society: teenage suicide and the prevalence of bullying in schools; the invisibility of teenage runaways (and the homeless generally) amid the vast sprawl of the Tokyo megalopolis; domestic abuse and neglect; the sexualisation of adolescents; the abuse of power; and the conflict between Japan’s low official age of consent and other laws geared toward preventing the exploitation of minors. Given the seriousness of these issues, it therefore comes as a pleasant surprise that there are also moments of genuine, laugh-out-loud comedy sprinkled throughout “Higehiro’s” 13 episodes, adding a touch of lightness that in no way detracts from the depth of the narrative’s darker and more dramatic themes. Hugely controversial in Japan, and at times undoubtedly uncomfortable viewing, “Higehiro: After Being Rejected, I Shaved and Took In a High School Runaway” is a confronting exploration of serious issues that is at times moving, horrifying, amusing, and, above all, deeply human.
Text © Copyright Brendan E Byrne 2021. All rights reserved/