A Murakami-inspired supernatural thriller. Japanese office drone Arisu finds his own life imitating the mystery novels of his favourite writer when his wife disappears and he finds he is being pursued by a sinister figure in a rabbit suit.
The third film from writer/director John Williams, Starfish Hotel is part detective thriller, part supernatural adventure, with similarities to the nightmarish worlds and off-kilter mysteries of David Lynch’s films and Haruki Murakami’s novels.
Jo Kuroda’s mystery novels have three things in common: they’re set in a disturbing realm called Darkland, they feature a sinister rabbit called Mr Trickster and they begin with a disappearance of a woman. Yuichi Arisu is a Tokyo wage-slave who lives an isolated existence. He finds his job meaningless and cannot connect with his beautiful wife, instead escaping into Koruda’s novels. One day, a number of events coincide: Jo Koruda has a new novel coming out; Arisu finds a strange man in a rabbit suit is following him around; and Arisu’s wife has gone missing. The next day he falls asleep on the underground and wakes to find himself sitting opposite Koruda, who persuades him to tell his own story, which involves an affair with a beautiful woman. They meet in the crumbling Starfish Hotel in a snowbound town in the far north of Japan. As Arisu’s story unfolds in a series of flashbacks and nightmares, the search for his wife continues. He tracks her to a private detective and on to an underground brothel called Wonderland. But when the brothel burns down and the detective is murdered, Arisu becomes the main suspect and he finds that the barriers between fiction and reality, dream and waking life are collapsing around him – under the aegis of Darkland.
As the film contains a creepy figure in a shabby rabbit suit, Mr Trickster, comparisons have been made to Richard Kelly’s Donnie Darko, much to director Williams’ annoyance. In fact, the rabbit is a reference to the white rabbit in Lewis Carrol’s Alice in Wonderland, who leads Alice down into an alternate world governed by an altogether different form of logic. His name, Mr Trickster, identifies him as a figure from Japanese myth – the animal trickster or Tanuki. The Tanuki is literally translated as a ‘racoon dog’ and is associated with the fox and badger. He is a wily spirit who leads characters to their own destruction for his amusement.
Williams is an English filmmaker living in Japan. His films are immersed in Japanese culture – unusually, not from an ex-pat perspective – and feature Japanese actors. His first film was the 1996 Midnight Spin. In 2001, he followed this with the award-winning Firefly Dreams. Starfish Hotel won the Jury Prize at the Austin Fantastic Fest and the Grand Prize of European Fantasy at the Luxembourg International Film Festival.