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3rd December by Margaret Wieringa
The Japanese Film Festival is continuing through until December 9 at ACMI and Hoyts Melbourne Central. Unfortunately, the films generally only screen once, which is a real shame.
Poor Yukiyo is a thirty-one year-old ‘second virgin’ with little self-confidence in life, especially with women. However, scoring a job at a very groovy webazine, he finds himself chasing one woman whilst being chased by another. But the relationships are complex, and Yukiyo has to find his inner-strength to reach his goal.
Most of this film is delightful, with the clumsy and awkward Yukiyo not seeing what is directly in front of him, and pursuing a hopeless goal. And then it gets creepy. I felt extremely uncomfortable during a chase sequence toward the end that is veering rapidly toward sexual assault. Really, that ruined the whole film for me. Shame, because otherwise it was darned funny.
Handsome Suit is my pick of the festival so far. It is so funny, with a truly unexpected twist at the end that was perfect. The story is of Okhi, an overweight and ugly man running his late mother’s diner in suburban Tokyo. Whilst his customers and friends love him, he repulses women and is desperately lonely. Okhi is the perfect test subject for the producers of the Handsome Suit – a suit which, when worn, turns him into Hikariyama Annin. But is the happiness that beauty and wealth offer him greater than the happiness of his former life?
Handsome Suit was a late entry into the festival, replacing another film on the line-up. Looking online, it was actually released in 2008. I am so pleased that this film was included. Muga Tsukaji and Shosuke Tanihara are marvelous as the two sides of Okhi – the ugly and the handsome. The comedy is slapstick and over-the-top as you would expect from film based on a manga series, but there is such heart. It is not getting another play at this festival, but keep your eyes open on SBS or at your specialty DVD shops. Definitely worth it.
We Were There: True Love is the sequel to We Were There: First Love that, unfortunately, I missed. Luckily, it seems to stand alone, mostly. The first film follows a group of school students, in particular Motohari and Nanami. They fall in love, but Motohari is still dealing with the death of his ex-girlfriend, Nana. True Love is set six years later. Nanami has spent five years waiting for Motohari to return to her; either to reunite or to say goodbye. Eventually, she tries to move on and falls into a relationship with another old classmate, Takeuchi. But the past will not disappear so easily.
The cynical side of me wanted to scream at the screen ‘get over it! He/she (depending on which character I was wanting to yell at) treats you like shit! Get over it!’. Of course, this would never happen. I only yell at the screen in the privacy of my own home; plus, I actually really liked this film. Whilst the characters’ decisions and actions were really annoying, I liked most of them, and I did want them all to be happy. But, it really could have happened a lot quicker, perhaps with fewer subplots. And a few less heartfelt monologues; especially the voiceovers. Still, it was value for money – I think there were at least three endings.
At sixteen, ditsy Sanae and her friends are starting a new year at middle school. But at their first kendo training, they meet Kaori, who is a very serious loner. After their intense practice bouts, Sanae realises that Kaori is the regional champion who she accidently beat the previous year. Kaori has transferred to their school with the sole purpose of meeting with Sanae and beating her, and is devastated to discover that Sanae is not serious about the sport. Kaori takes up a personal challenge to train Sanae until she is a worthy opponent.
Whilst the film is very long, it is a very interesting exploration of two teenage girls as they try to find the balance between their family lives and the challenges of dedication to sport.