From March 31 to April 10, over 100 films were screened online and at drive-in theaters for the 36th Santa Barbara International Film Festival. One of the international movies played was “The Cinderella Addiction,” a Japanese thriller directed by Ryohei Watanabe. The film centers around Koharu (Tao Tsuchiya), a young woman working for child welfare services, and her relationship with Daigo (Kei Tanaka) and their daughter Hikari (Coco).
Koharu enters the film adamantly against child abandonment due to her own past. After a series of unfortunate events, she encounters Daigo and saves his life. Daigo appears to be a prince charming type of character, as he lends his wealth to help Koharu’s family members. The two quickly hit it off and are married within a month, making Koharu the new stepmother of Daigo’s daughter, Hikari.
Hikari and her stepmother get along well, at first. Determined to be a better mother than her own, Koharu tries her best for Hikari. Daigo, who was abused by his mother as a child, also wants to avoid giving Hikari a similar experience. When Hikari starts to act up, discarding her mother’s efforts, the film appears to take a sinister turn.
With her difficult personality and frequent tantrums, Hikari strains the relationships around her. Koharu begins turning into the very person she vowed never to be, and wrestles with the idea of what it means to be a good mother. The family experiences some turbulence while Hikari reveals her true nature. At the end, Koharu and Daigo decide to do whatever it takes to support their daughter.
The 110-minute film, despite a long buildup of carefully curated tense scenes and foreshadowing, ends up falling flat. “The Cinderella Addiction” establishes a variety of ominously repeating motifs that fizzle out and fail to follow through, a notable one being an eerie ringing in the ear. Its theme of family and motherhood is shapeless and a bit convoluted in delivery, going in several different directions at once.
“The 110-minute film, despite a long buildup of carefully curated tense scenes and foreshadowing, ends up falling flat.”
By the end of the movie, viewers are left with more questions than answers. Hikari’s malevolent actions have no perceivable reasoning, with the intent behind them unclear. In a similar vein, Korahu loses her sense of self throughout the course of the story, and it is not easy to see why. Despite the presented explanation of a mother’s duty to her children, the motive behind her actions is still barely understandable.
Even when surprising events happen, they appear as stagnant individual affairs and don’t build on each other or further the plot. Because of this, the depth of the film remains shallow and its finale, albeit shocking, is not thought-provoking. The delivery of the finale also is unable to support how grave its meaning really is.
There is little that is more powerful than the lengths people will go to preserve their families, especially when it is tied to their conception of happiness. “The Cinderella Addiction” puts forth an adamant attempt to grapple with such issues, with poignant acting and purposeful moments of suspense. However, the film’s endeavor to spin a tale deeper and darker than itself means it ends up failing the same way its protagonist does in its effort to not become bad.