Haname Jinchoge is a woman who has a bad day, a really bad day. In fact Haname has notoriously bad luck. When her fashion magazine is shut down due to poor sales she flips out and concusses herself with a set of nunchucks. Deciding to start her life anew Haname clears out her flat, after being ridiculed by the removal men, and takes her lonely pet rabbit Gonzaburo to find a girlfriend, where she promptly loses him in among the look-alike bunnies of the rabbit-breeding farm. Sad and low Haname makes her way home, but before she can reach it she receives a call from the police telling her of her mother’s accident. She has fallen into a lake, and then a coma.
It looks as if things can’t get any worse for Haname, as the police try to solve the strange circumstances of her mother’s accident; apparently she was fishing for water spirits, using a long pole and a cucumber, when suddenly they discover something even stranger. From the lake they dredge a post box, stolen years ago and full of slimy, semi-legible letters. In it they discover a letter, written by Haname’s mother to a mystery man, as it turns out, her real father.
From a slightly odd beginning, the opening sequence in particular, which is a strange montage of Haname’s restlessness in her mediocre life, Instant Swamp takes a bold move. It morphs into a film about a young woman getting to know her father, learning who she is and taking direction from that knowledge. Haname is forced to question the cynicism she has harboured since childhood, refusing to believe in luck, fate or spirits. She begins to embrace a more magical view of the world and her story really grips you and leads you along on her journey of discovery. Finding friends in unexpected places and adding colour to her life in simple ways Haname embarks with her father and his friend Gas on some strange and pointless adventures. Haname has to come to terms with the fact that the fortuitous events taking place in her life are not the ones she had hoped for and her new found father Light Bulb is not as earnest as he may seem.
Overall this film is a very entertaining watch. It is a quirky, believable jaunt into the world of the supernatural and yet it keeps it’s feet firmly grounded in the more serious subjects of difficult child-parent relationships and the fight against stagnation in a life gone astray. Instant Swamp is comic and diverting without becoming so surreal it loses all sense of narrative, as more independent films are often want to do.
Haname herself can be a little grating at times, with far too much high-pitched shrieking and highs and lows so extreme they’re almost caricatured. The film also has some jarring oddities, for example: a tendency to hop relentlessly from shot to shot with little breath in between and the use of some particularly poor mythical creature puppets. Also the conclusion of the film takes a massive swerve away from the fairly realist narrative that bobs along so nicely for one hundred minutes. I started, exclaimed, rewound and starred again in disbelief, and yet the slightly absurd ending doesn’t take anything away from the films overall message. Like Adrift in Tokyo, Instant Swamp comes with a touching life lesson, seize the day, get back on you feet and try something different.