Sunday, April 20, 2014

Review of "Kamisama no Karte 2"

While on a recent trip in Japan, I had the opportunity to catch three new movies showing in cinemas. As such, I begin with the review of the first movie I watched in Yokohama i.e. "Kamisama no Karte 2".

Frankly speaking, I didn't think too much of the first movie which I had watched while on a flight. Granted that it wasn't exactly the best condition to be in to watch a slow movie like this and I was already tired due to the delayed takeoff, I found myself dozing off so many times that I decided to stop watching it after an hour. In view of this, I wasn't too keen on the sequel. However, the double lure of Sakurai Sho and Fujiwara Takuya made me decide to pay a hefty price of JPY 1,800 just to watch this movie (considered rather ex because a ticket in Singapore would cost SGD 11 at most during the weekend compared to SGD 22.50 based on the current exchange rate). However, there are discounted rates on certain days e.g. half price on the 1st day of the month and Wednesdays where ladies get to buy discounted tickets so you might want to time your visit to the cinema to coincide with these offers.

From this point onwards, there will be spoilers so if you do not wish to know the story, you may wish to skip this review.

Kurihara Ichito (Sakurai Sho) is still working in the Honjo Hospital as a gastrointestinal medicine specialist and works alongside his respected mentor Nukita Seitaro (Emoto Akira) as they both give their all to the patients rather than spend more time with their families. While on a rare outing with their husbands, Haruna (Miyazaki Aoi) and Nukita's wife Chiyo (Ichige Yoshie) meet for the first time where the latter takes the opportunity to "lament" that their husbands are literally married to the hospital and patients rather than them.

At around the same time, Ichito's former schoolmate Shindo Tatsuya (Fujiwara Tatsuya) comes to work at the Honjo Hospital which makes Ichito very happy to be reunited with his buddy. However, he soon realises that something is not quite right with Shindo as he would knock off on time and would not respond to calls to return to work outside of the usual working hours. When Ichito tries to confront Shindo about the latter's attitude, he is even more disappointed to hear that Shindo doesn't think that he is wrong to draw a clear line between work and family. Later on, Ichito realises that Shindo's marriage with Chinatsu (Fukiishi Kazue -their junior back in medical school) is on the rocks as she became obsessed with work and tried very hard to prove herself after an incident. As a result, Shindo brought his daughter Natsuna back to his hometown because he had enough of Chinatsu's negligence of their family.

Nukita collapses one day and is found to be suffering from terminal cancer. Although Ichito and Shindo try their best to save Nukita, his condition worsens gradually. Being unable to do much for him medically, the crew decide to help Nukita fulfill his last wish to see a starry sky with Chiyo which they are very grateful for. Nukita's passing somehow serves as a catalyst for change in Ichito and Shindo as they try to find the answer of seeking a balance between doing their best for patients and giving due attention to their families.

To be honest, this movie is also very slow like its original. I have no idea about the novel and how it presents the story but the movies have one common characteristic i.e. the storytelling is done at a leisurely pace and there are rarely major fluctuations in the emotions displayed by the characters except for a few scenes like when Ichito poured coffee over Shindo because he was angry with Shindo's attitude. Then again, pouring coffee is considered a rather subtle way of showing the anger as compared to pouncing on the guy and giving him a few punches. As such, the pace and generally peaceful atmosphere in this film can be rather sleep-inducing. I did find myself dozing off a couple of times (again!) because it felt as if nothing much was happening on the screen. If you are one who relishes action and emotional displays in a more elaborate manner rather than keeping it in all the time, you might find it very difficult to stay awake or remain interested in the movie.

In addition, I felt that the dilemma and conflicts felt by Ichito and Shindo were probably done too superficially i.e. did not get to the crux of the issue. While introducing the film, the PR efforts talked a fair bit about work-life balance but this isn't really the problem which the two doctors are facing. In Ichito's case, he has always been driven by his ideals of doing his best for his patients. He knows that he needs to do more for Haruna who is already pregnant but I get the feeling that he is not making an effort to change because he always thinks that Haruna will understand him. Simply put, he knows that there is a problem but he doesn't have the impetus to change things. Of course, with Nukita's death, it sort of made him realise that he has to pay more attention to Haruna. However, he doesn't realise that what Haruna minds is not so much about the lack of we-time but rather the fact that Ichito keeps his troubles to himself and doesn't open up to her. As such, although this couple appears loving on the surface, this gap in their perceptions may jolly form the next conflict between them if there is going to be another sequel.

On the other hand, Shindo's problem with Chinatsu was a bit surprising because I had thought that Shindo might have been a workaholic and has to change his ways now to save his marriage. Turns out that Chinatsu is the workaholic and how she became one was rather unexpected. The thing is, the problem between this couple is not so readily resolved by either party changing and giving in. They both know that they can't make major steps to change their current situation but as long as they can continue taking small actions to mend the rift between them, there is a chance that they can reconcile after all. I thought that Fujiwara and Fukiishi's scene over the phone as the first step in their reconciliation was quite touching.

In terms of visuals, the scenery in Matsumoto City, Nagano Prefecture, was great and made the movie look somewhat like a travelogue at times. However, it would have been best if the story and BGM could be beefed up to make the scenery stand out and become more memorable. "Hakusen Nagashi" did a great job in bringing out the charms of Matsumoto City with its very infectious music and story which everyone can relate to easily as long as you've been a student before. Too bad this movie didn't achieve the same impact.

It certainly doesn't look like this movie did extremely well in the box office despite stepped-up efforts to promote it. I was in this huge cinema theatre which can easily hold more than 200 people but I was the only one there watching the movie with another couple. Granted it was a Monday and most people probably wouldn't watch a movie on weekday nights, it might explain the low turnout but if you had seen the huge amount of people showing up to watch "Frozen", it would make you think otherwise. The movie only got No.5 during the first weekend it was shown. I have no idea if it was "Frozen" which was too strong and beat the competition flat out or a lack of draw factors even for Arashi fangirls to show up and support Sakurai.

As for the promotional efforts, I was more surprised to see Miyazaki Aoi making the rounds on at least two Arashi variety programmes i.e. VS Arashi and Arashi ni Shiyagare. Now, if you know the Miyazaki of the old, she rarely shows on variety programmes, not to even mention playing games like what she did in VS Arashi. There's a lot of speculation on why she changed her mind but most of the views were that since she got divorced and had her name dragged through that extramarital affair rumour with Okada Junichi, her pulling power as an actress seemed to have been badly affected so it resulted in her having to put in more effort to promote her work. Even as she appeared in these variety shows, she seemed a bit emotionally detached and the chemistry between her and Sakurai seemed quite lacking.

On the other hand, I've also read reports pointing to the movie company complaining about Sakurai not doing his part for the promotion and the bad performance of the movie was due to that. Well, as the leads of the movie, you get praised when it does well and get bashed when it doesn't. Kimura Takuya should know the pain of this dilemma because he has been bashed so much in recent years. When you take a closer look at the so-called flops, there can hardly be one single reason amounting to the poor performance. As such, I do not think promotional efforts are the sole reason why a movie flops. I truly think that this story's pacing might be a huge deterrence to people who have no patience to sit through a thought-provoking movie. Even I did not watch it because I was drawn to the story. The cast was the key motivator in my choice. Besides, competition is stiff these days with so many Japanese and foreign films vying for attention. If the movie attracts a niche crowd, chances are it may become a critical favourite but not as well-received in the box office. Now, if you want to shift the blame, Fujiwara Tatsuya who has a pretty meaty role was also not actively seen in the promotional run and was actually concentrating his efforts on another movie where he was the lead actor i.e. Sanbun no Ichi. Would you then think that he deserves to be blamed for promoting another movie showing at around the same time as "Kamisama no Karte 2" or he is not wrong to promote the other movie due to his status as lead actor?

And my ratings for this movie...

Story: 6 out of 10 (It could have been better but the dilemma of work-life balance is something which there is no perfect answer yet. As such, whatever discussion of it in the film seems to be barely scratching the surface and not getting to the crux of the issues between the couples featured in this movie)

Acting: 6.5 out of 10 (I like the fact that Sakurai doesn't have to sport that curly hairdo anymore but honestly, there seems to be an invisible wall between him and Miyazaki which coincides with how Haruna feels towards Ichito i.e. he doesn't open up to her. As such, I don't really have the feeling that this couple is emotionally invested in each other and the lovey-dovey displays of affection seem quite odd to me. In that sense, I get the feeling that they are "acting" as a couple i.e. making it too obvious that it's not real. Besides, there is little character development for Haruna and I feel that I hardly know her after two movies. In contrast, Fujiwara and Fukiishi may have lesser screentime but I felt more emotionally involved in their conflict and could empathise with them.)

Theme song: 4 out of 10 (Very peaceful and slow BGM but doesn't leave too much of an impression)

Visual effects / Scenery: 8 out 10 (Great scenery at Matsumoto, Nagano)

Teamwork / Chemistry: 6 out of 10 (After two movies, I still don't feel as much towards the main couple. On surface, they seem to be quite loving but like what I pointed out earlier, there are deeper emotional issues which need resolving.)

Total: 30.5 out of 50


Anonymous said...

I think for drama genre, the box office result is really good . However, you should know that the first movie's doubles the second one. I don't understand why people became less interested in the sequel.

Chiaki said...

It's always been said that sequels never do better than the originals, in terms of both quality and performance in the box office. I don't really remember how well Kamisama no Karte 1 did but it must have performed well enough to warrant the sequel. However, in 2's case, the conditions weren't as bad as imagined because it was the only new Japanese film released that week. One article I read also said that it was a long weekend when the movie was first screened so it should have boosted ticket sales as well. If it had been released one week later, it would have clashed head on with "Shirayuki Hime Satsujin Jiken" and "Team Batista Final Kerberos no Shouzou" which would have eaten further into its potential ticket sales.

I am guessing that there is no single reason for the movie losing steam so quickly in terms of ticket sales. "Frozen" doing so well in the box office, stiff competition in the following week after its release and the niche appeal of the movie itself probably contributed to this.

Anonymous said...

yes, the sequel not doing well in box-office like the first one
to be honest, i don't know why they make the sequel of this movie.