Sunday, February 23, 2014

Review of Hidamari no Kanojo 陽だまりの彼女

For those who are in Singapore, "Hidamari no Kanojo" has started its run in GV from this week onwards. However, when I went to see it yesterday evening, the takings didn't seem particularly encouraging. Besides me who was there alone and another person who was also on her own, there were only two other couples seated in the rows behind and in front of me plus another three guys in the centre row. And we were seated in a mid-size hall so it certainly doesn't look like the box office results will be good to look at especially when more than 90% of the hall is empty. Anyway, if you can, try to catch it soon because Japanese films rarely last more than two weeks in the cinema so most likely, it will end its run by next weekend.

Actually, I can't really blame people for not being there in the cinemas to support this film. I didn't know that this film was coming to Singapore until about a week or so ago when there was a small banner ad saying that GV is the exclusive distributor of the movie. However, the listing of the movie only came up nearer to this Thursday which was the first day of the screening so there was a brief moment when I thought I got the wrong information. Besides, there are only two screenings per day (one at 11-plus in the morning and the only at 6-plus in the evening). I guess these timings aren't exactly the crowd-pullers so that also affected the willingness of people to head into the cinemas. Otherwise, I would have thought that based on Arashi's popularity and the fact that Ueno Juri is quite well-known for her role in Nodame Cantabile, there would be more people in the cinemas catching this.

To put things simply, this is a very straightforward love story with a not-so-obvious twist towards the end. The lead character Okuda Kosuke (Matsumoto Jun) is a 25-year-old guy working in an advertisement agency who dreams of being able to find someone he loves but cannot fathom why he's still alone at this age. One day, while meeting a new client for a presentation, Kosuke reunites with his junior high school classmate Watarai Mao (Ueno Juri) who has transformed into a beautiful and confident woman despite being an outcast and bullied by their fellow classmates when they were in school 10 years ago. Soon after, Kosuke and Mao start dating and even get married without informing their parents in advance. Although life seems blissful and full of happiness initially, Kosuke realises that there seems to be something wrong with Mao and later finds out their reunion wasn't a coincidence in the first place...

From this point onwards, there will be spoilers so if you don't want to know the story, please stop reading this review.

Frankly speaking, before watching this movie, seeing the slogan that "Mao has a secret to hide" sort of got me thinking if this so-called secret will be a predictable one e.g. she has an illness or she has an unspeakable past which is an overused ruse in many dramas and movies. I really thought that if the story followed a tried-and-tested format, it would flop badly. However, I think that although this drama doesn't really score high in terms of originality, it's the way that it's presented that makes it more palatable that I thought.

First of all, the reunion of Kosuke and Mao and their subsequent courtship was crafted in such a way that it's believable and something which can happen to anyone on the street. In addition, the romance between them was somewhat like water seeping through the rocks i.e. gradual rather than having the lovey-dovey scenes shoved into your face and forcing the viewers to accept that the couple is in love just by watching a couple of scenes where they go on dates. Of course, in Kosuke and Mao's case, they already had some feelings for each other back in junior high which might have continued blossoming if Kosuke's family didn't move away to Nagoya. As such, it was a natural progression rather than a fresh relationship built upon the reunion.

Secondly, I like that the "sweetness" index of the couple's relationship didn't go too overboard. The chemistry between Matsujun and Juri was just great and you can really feel as if they were fully immersed in their roles and truly in love with each other. They are such a cute couple who does ordinary things and really comes off as people you want to root for to be together for the rest of their lives. I think the endearing nature of this couple was what made me like them a lot. Sometimes, when I watch romance dramas or movies, I can't bring myself to like the main couple. I wonder if it has to do with the fact that the circumstances surrounding the couple and how they develop their relationship lack an air of reality and I don't like things which seem too far-fetched from reality.

Last but not least, although Mao's secret isn't that surprising (her being a cat who wanted to become human in order to be with Kosuke), I thought there was some great attention to the details which did offer clues to viewers to guess the answer. For example, when Kosuke suggested that they keep a dog as a pet, Mao was very insistent that she would not allow that. In addition, back in their school days, Mao was pretty much on her own and didn't really care how people bullied her which seemed like how cats would behave because they just do their thing and wouldn't care about the people around them. And when Mao met the old lady at the cat house, it was already quite obvious that they knew each other so it didn't take a long time to piece together all the clues together to get the correct answer. Well, I do remember seeing dramas and movies where animals such as dogs and foxes became human to repay the kindness shown by someone or to be with someone they love so honestly, Mao's secret does not rank high on originality. However, I am not really complaining because there was some effort put into making the secret gel with the story's developments so as long as the truth isn't a hard-sell with no supporting evidence along the way, I can still accept it despite the lack of originality.

Compared to the story, I thought the acting was more noteworthy. I must admit that even though I adore Arashi, there are some differences in how I view their acting and Matsujun isn't really my cup of tea. He's been getting quite a fair bit of those exaggerated roles e.g. Domyoji in "Hana Yori Dango" where either his actions are overboard or his image is too flashy for people to see how he really acts or if he can act. Besides, his image in Arashi is the fashionista so I was a bit concerned whether he could pull off the role of Kosuke, an ordinary guy who could do with some luck in the romance sector. On the other hand, Ueno Juri has been relatively low-profile after the Taiga "Gou" where she was slammed for the low ratings and rumours of her being difficult to work with or not behaving appropriately towards the senior actors. It did worry me too about whether Matsujun and Juri could work well together and I found it a bit hard to imagine them looking compatible on screen.

Thankfully, none of these worries came true. Matsujun and Juri looked so compatible as a couple so this was a huge relief. Matsujun managed to pull of the role of Kosuke and looked the part as an innocent young man which is a far cry from his flashy and exaggerated acting. Trying to act normal and ordinary can sometimes be more difficult so I think Matsujun succeeded in this movie by changing my perception of him. Now, if only he could try more varied roles from now on and show that he can handle more depth in his roles...I would have thought that Shitsuren Chocolatier would be a good way of getting out of his stereotype but the first episode alone got on my nerves quite a bit because I like the serious side of his role when he was reflecting on why he could not give up the girl of his dreams even though she got married but when his character was going overboard with the fantasizing, I didn't really find that it was funny.

Juri, on the other hand, was back at her best in handling the multi-faceted Mao who was cheerful, sensitive, shy, assertive and emotional all rolled into one. Although I wouldn't say that this is her best performance to date like what she did in "Last Friends", it was a challenge to be able to show all the different sides of Mao within a 2-hour movie and she was really such a joy to watch on screen. She didn't have to try too hard to look cute and her chemistry with Matsujun was as good as what she showed with Eita in "Last Friends" and "Sunao ni narenakute". It would be fun to have these two reunite in a full-length drama as a couple headed for a happier ending though.

Due to the fact that much of the attention was on the main couple, the supporting cast didn't really get a chance to shine. Nonetheless, I like the workplace scenes in Kosuke's office where Okura Koji who plays Kosuke's superior keeps asking him to go to a nightclub with him while Kosuke's junior at work Minegishi (Tanimura Mitsuki) behaves as if she's the senior instead as she looks on at what Kosuke is doing with a little disdain. It sort of adds a bit of light-hearted humour to the story but sad to say, it doesn't form a huge and significant part of the story. However, the young actors playing the main characters during their junior high days i.e. Kitamura Takumi and Aoi Wakana were quite eye-catching especially Aoi who looked so much like Ueno Juri and gave off the same vibe as her. I thought it was a better idea to have these younger actors play the junior high counterparts of the couple rather than have Matsujun and Juri act younger than their age. Not to say that they look old but junior high may be a bit stretching it for the both of them. Besides, it was nice to be able to identify which scenes happened in the past just by looking at the different faces of the actors concerned.

Last but not least, the music used in this movie was a great plus. With regard to the song "Wouldn't it be nice" by the Beach Boys, it was specifically chosen and used in happy scenes of Kosuke and Mao which I thought was a perfect fit. In addition, the lyrics seemed to be describing how much in love they are and how marriage was the best thing for them to continue living happily. On the other hand, "Hikari to Kimi no Requiem" by Yamashita Tatsuro was a mix of happiness and sadness because it talked about being together and having to part so it was used for the sad scenes towards the end of the movie. I thought it was clever to use two contrasting songs to piece together the change in mood rather than have one song throughout the movie.

And my ratings for this movie...

Story: 7 out of 10 (Generally, the story's presentation was good but I would have liked a bit more originality in the twist)

Acting: 8 out of 10 (Good acting from Matsujun and Juri.)

Theme song: 8.5 out of 10 (I prefer the Beach Boys' song simply because it brings a smile to my face. Very chirpy and uplifting.)

Visual effects / Scenery: 8.5 out 10 (This movie shows Enoshima at its best and I can't wait to visit there when I'm in Japan next month to see if it's as romantic as it looks. ^__^)

Teamwork / Chemistry: 7 out of 10 (I think Matsujun and Juri did well together but the rest of the cast felt disjointed from them as the story's focus was on the main couple only. Would have been better if there was more interaction between the couple and the other characters.)

Total: 39 out of 50


chan said...

In thailand.This movie would not have to enter.Expectionally for the release on DVD

Rika Taniwaki said...

Perdón por comentar en español.. pero no soy buena con el inglés. Estoy de acuerdo con todo lo que dices de la película.. yo no puedo ser objetiva ni imparcial al emitir una opinión porque soy fan de Matsumoto Jun y verlo me deja por las nubes.. así que, leer el análisis que hiciste de la película me ayudó a entenderlo mejor... Gracias por compartirlo. Soy parte del equipo de Fansub que tradujo hidamari no Kanojo al español. Desde Paraguay, un beso, Gracias !!!