Ah, the joy of discovering a film that is simply content to entertain in the purest way possible. Lisa Takeba's Haruko's Paranormal Laboratory [Haruko Chojo Gensho Kenkyujo] has zero pretentions, it doesn't try to be anything more than fun, escapist nonsense and it ignores any sensible running time targets. But it sure is a blast.
Making a film like this comes with penalties though. Unless you're an established director with plenty of clout to waste, getting a film like this properly financed is virtually impossible. Takeba does her very best to cover up the lack of budget, but she's only partially successful. While she's quite generous with funky camera work and visual filters, the film retains a very lo-fi look that betrays its indie roots. It's not a big deal, especially as it's a comedy that draws a lot of humor from its hard-wrought freedom, just don't expect to be dazzled.
The story revolves around Haruko, a young girl who is certain that paranormal phenomena exist. Her many attempts to uncover them never result in concrete proof, until one day she hits the jackpot. After slinging 10.000 insults at her TV set, the television is finally fed up with all the verbal abuse and turns human. After a little spat, the two end up sleeping with each other and start a loving relationship. If this doesn't make any sense, rest assured that the rest of the film goes down that same route, but it's a great starting point for some absurdist comedy, some of it quite grotesque, the rest dry and deadpan.
The only problem with recommending Haruko's Paranormal Laboratory is that the comedy is very much rooted in Japanese pop culture. While not understanding the roots of some of the gags can make the film even more absurd, it might also make it a little too random. The references are quite on the nose and don't require people to have a thorough understanding of Japanese pop culture, but some baseline level of familiarity is definitely a plus here. It's no surprise then that the film never quite found its footing across the ocean.
Films like these often run too long, luckily Takeba was smart enough to wrap everything up after 75 minutes. That means she doesn't get to the "required" 90 minute mark, but I'm happy she didn't needlessly drag out the film just to meet some senseless industry standard. When all the material is depleted, it's just better to end things naturally. That way the film doesn't overstay its welcome and things end on a positive note. There's no forced drama here, no deeper meanings (unless you're really stretching yourself to find one), everything is simply played out for maximum fun. Haruko's Paranormal Laboratory is a warm recommendation, but only if you can stomach the absurdist comedy, Takeba's low budget approach and the overwhelming Japaneseness of it all.