Stratosphere Girl (DVD)

No blondes were harmed in the making of this motion picture.

Just after graduating from school in Holland, 18-year-old Angela (Chloe Winkel) meets a Japanese bartender at a party, who tells her about a job opportunity in his hometown, Tokyo. Desperate to escape the boredom of her daily life, Angela hops on board a plane that night, and lands the job as a “hostess” in an upscale nightclub, where her duties consist of flirting with customers, mostly wealthy Japanese businessmen.

But Angela’s adventure takes a severe turn almost immediately. The girl she has replaced disappeared under mysterious circumstances. Was an especially sleazy recurring customer involved? Did the other girls at the club get too jealous of her? Is Angela headed for the same fate? As an aspiring comic book artist, Angela is compelled to draw everything that happens to her; she looks at life in terms of heroic adventure. This compels her to solve the mystery, no matter what dark, sinister path it might take her down.

It’s impossible to watch Stratosphere Girl without being reminded of Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation. Don’t believe me? Go on, try it right now. See? What did I tell you? Can’t be done. Several shots appear to be lifted straight from that film, as our young heroine explores Tokyo on her own, immersed in a dreamlike, ethereal atmosphere.

Fortunately, there’s enough that’s different here plot-wise to keep viewers watching. The film never gets so slow-paced that it turns boring. Our would-be Nancy Drew keeps digging up clues about the missing girl, all while trying to survive in a culture she barely understands. Chloe Winkel does what she can with the role, but spends a little too much of the film moping. We never get the sense just how frightened she is, or how driven she might be to solve the crime.

There are plenty of little nitpicks a viewer could make about the movie. A lot of what some might consider clever, others might find a little too on the nose. For example, the sleazy customer who treats the girls badly is named “Kruilman.” As in “cruel man,” get it? When Angela finds herself at a crossroads in her life, it’s at a moment when she’s standing on a crosswalk in the middle of a street. While it’s nice that director M.X. Oberg (Undertaker’s Paradise) has tried to put some symbolic touches into the film, these are so obvious they become distracting.

Without going into too many spoilers, I’ll just say the ending is something of a disappointment. Rather than deduce anything, Angela just stumbles onto the solution. And then everything is wrapped in a nice little package so quickly and efficiently, it’s like you blink and the movie’s over. After spending an hour and a half with these characters, such an abrupt ending is jarring.

Stratosphere Girl looks vibrant on DVD, with an excellent 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. The 5.1 track is good, especially when the music kicks in. But because this is a quieter, ponderous film, there’s not a lot of dynamic sound to begin with. A written “director’s statement” and some production notes are the only glimpses we get behind the scenes. A stills gallery is nothing more than photos from the film. If they’re going to include a gallery, why not make it a collection of Angela’s drawings from the film? Or better yet, why not make it a DVD-ROM feature so we can print them and enjoy them? Am I just crazy for thinking these things? The only other extras are a group of trailers for other TLA films.

It’s an entirely different take on the comic book adventure story, in which an ordinary person views her life in superheroic terms. But the film just doesn’t quite reach the heights it shoots for.

The Verdict

It’s far from perfect, but for those curious, the court recommends a rental.

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