Bambi Bone

Original title
Bambi Bone
Japanese title
Running time
78 minutes
21 September 2005
Bambi Bone


Hirokazu Koreeda's Nobody Knows seems to have spawned a sub-genre of films about troubled kids with even more messed up (or absent) parents. Noriko Shibutani's shot-on-video feature about a young boy and girl escaping the real world through play doesn't carry the emotional impact it'd like to, but there's enough to recommend.

Eleven-year-olds Tada and Aya have been friends since nursery school and wile away their days playing strange games together. Their favourite thing to do is to wear plastic bags with eye holes over their heads, running around the streets of Shishibone and spending hours going up and down the big slide at Tada's exclusive private school. When we see what their home lives are like, it's no wonder they (unintentionally) self-medicate through playing pretend. Aya often sits in the park across from her house as her mother's numerous male visitors come and go. Tada has to endure his father's total obsession with his legs, subjected to fervent fondling and having his toenails painted bright red. All the while, Tada's mother pretends the house is a happy home, but in the daytime walks around nicking flowerpots from around the neighbourhood.

One day, the kids find a sheet of corrugated plastic and draw outlines of each others' bodies on it. Aya then stands behind it while Tada hurls mud and rocks. Tada's father spies on their rambunctious play, threatened by what's obviously a close friendship. That night, he ends up crawling into his own son's bed and raping him. When Aya comes over for dinner, Tada makes a scene and outs his father. Tada runs barefoot into the night, back to the junkyard where he sets the plastic representation of himself on fire in a rite of passage.

Instead of Nobody Knows's Suginami ward, BAMBI♥BONE aspires to put non-descript Edogawa neighbourhood Shishibone (the English title is a literal translation of the kanji) on the map, but the film is unlikely to make it past the local bus stop. The theme of kids overcoming traumatic events is a noble one, but the thin narrative doesn't fully let us feel their plight. The quality of the videography is patchy, though there are some nice eye-popping colours and grainy but effective nighttime shooting. As with many video features, editing is a weak point. A lot of the sequences are repetitive and the reappearing "sweat sisters", an obese pair of women that hang around the area acting weird, is filler at best. Nonetheless, Tokyo-based filmmaker Shibutani (who worked under director Kazuo Hara) has a good rapport with child actors and plans to make another film based around kids. Quirky soundtrack provided by Mashcat (Emi Necozawa and Momus).

BAMBI♥BONE won the Special Jury Prize at the 27th PIA Film Festival in 2005 and also received a Special Mention in the Dragons and Tigers Award section of the 24th Vancouver International Film Festival.