Things weren’t looking good in Japan. The year was 2003 and the nation was near the end of a period known as The Lost Decade. A stagnant economy and record unemployment were crippling people’s prospects and hope was in short supply. Then came Haru Urara.

She was a perfectly unremarkable horse except for two things: the Hello Kitty mask her trainer put her in and the fact she’d never won a race. Since debuting at the struggling Kochi track in 1998, Haru had competed in 88 races and lost every single one.

When a local journalist reported that nugget of information, the story went viral. Something about Haru’s failure and the parallel struggles of the race track to stay afloat struck a chord with a population all too familiar with such situations.

Director Mickey Duzyj turns this footnote from one nation’s past into The Shining Star of Losers Everywhere, a heart-warming tale about the value of fighting on, no matter how gloomy the outlook. He does so using a mixture of evocative animation to dramatise events, talking head interviews and archive footage.

The quirky animation – drawn by Duzyj and animated by Naoko Hara – is the most effective element, showing a self-deprecating sense of humour about Haru’s infamous losing streak. It’s rendered in sepia-coloured tones, almost as if drawn onto an old scroll, punctuated by flashes of Haru’s signature pink.

As Haru’s trainer says, “at the time Haru Urara must have been a star of hope for the losers”. She offered a message to never give up no matter how badly you’re losing. It resonated with a country that sorely needed some inspiration. And it wasn’t just the national mood that was lifted. One woman fighting breast cancer found resilience from Haru. Another man contemplating suicide decided to keep going. If nothing else, this little horse was proof that hope can sometimes come from the strangest of places.

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CAST: Koji Hashiguchi, Masashi Yoshida, Dai Muneishi, Ken Ishii

DIRECTOR: Mickey Duzyj

ANIMATION: Designed and drawn by Mickey Duzyj, animated by Naoko Hara

MUSIC: Terry Dame

SYNOPSIS: In 2003, Japan was plunged into economic darkness, and its people needed a ray of hope. They found one in Haru Urara, a racehorse with a pink Hello Kitty mask and a career-long losing streak.