I finally saw this film – even though it’s been out in Japan for a while now, and I’m sure with some sleuthing can be found online. But I got to see it in a cushioned seat in a small theater – so take that! 😀
There’s nothing to hate about this film, and there’s nothing to particularly love about this film. I got exactly what I was expecting: more than an hour’s worth of laughs and giggles, and a touch of melodrama.
There were certain scenes that I loved and stuck with me, but they’re not based on the scenario. Instead, they were based on the techniques the first-time director Kazuaki Ue employed. I have to say, I heard plenty of laughs, and plenty of yawns, in the theater. But it was all good fun and enjoyable.
So the synopsis: Saori (played by Hana Yori Dango’s Inoue Mao) is an aspiring manga writer, and she meets her future boyfriend (and husband) Tony Lazlo (newcomer Jonathan Sherr) through work. And if you can’t tell by the last name, Tony’s a foreigner (an American to be exact). They date, and Saori goes through all the pangs of trying to figure out if they’re “just friends” or if they’re an actual “couple” but eventually they move in together. Of course, there are plenty of cute hijinks: he wouldn’t be able to use the right word in Japanese; her family are shocked at the ethnicity of her boyfriend; he doesn’t understand Japanese (or Asian) culture when they disparage their own kids in good fun; her father doesn’t approve of their relationship; his friends don’t think too highly of her, etc.
But all goes well and eventually the miscommunication that breaks them apart is not from language barriers, but from the lack of being able to tell each other something – which is common for any couple in any culture. Saori’s inability to tell Tony right off that her father disapproves of them distances her from him. She then becomes unable to tell him that he’s not washing the dishes correctly, or doing the laundry correctly. Tony can sense it and eventually tells her that instead of going to America to visit his mom together, he’ll just go alone.
But since this story is based on real life, we know that Saori and Tony will get over their obstacles and get married and have lovely mixed children. In fact, the father doesn’t present himself as much of an obstacle; it’s the reaction to his words that does. All of the “obstacles” are pretty shallow, and though you know those instances are supposed to be embarrassing, it doesn’t get played out that way.
Jonathan Sherr is clearly a first time actor, and it shows through his portrayal of Tony – but he’s just. so. adorkable! It’s funny to watch his facial expressions as he just stares at Saori as though trying to figure out what she’s trying to express through her facial expressions, and as he tries to figure out what the proper phrase in Japanese is. His Japanese is so proper that the funniest phrases just come out of his mouth. For example, when Saori cheers and screams that her manga has finally been published, his mouth opens wide, and you expect to hear a scream or complete gabble (since when you’re happy you just make noises) – but he just goes, “I’m blown away.” And then he hugs and swings tiny Saori around like a doll. There were times when I got frustrated with his awkward acting (he always looks like he doesn’t know what to do with his hands), but he plays Tony earnestly, and that made up for it.
As for Inoue Mao – gosh that girl has the clearest. skin. ever! So many close-ups of her face and I was hating myself a lot. But moving on – she clearly masters the portrayal of the cute, romantic comedy girl, but she can also do crying scenes really well. She’s more comfortable in the film, as if she’s in her element, but unfortunately it does not make up for the lack of chemistry she and Sherr have. I enjoyed her performance, and her English was cute – hard to understand but not at all horrible.
As for the hilarious moments: there’s a scene where Tony is eating lunch at a sushi bar with his friends, and every sushi plate he grabs, his friends take it out of their hands and devour it like a pack of hungry wolves. Then a HUGE plate of a fish/whale/huge sea animal’s head on a platter is presented, and it’s all for Tony. His friends jump out of their seats instead of touching it. Also in the beginning, Tony gets lost and he asks for directions from a Japanese man, but the man says “No English!” and Tony replies, “But I speak Japanese,” in Japanese. He has to grab the guy and make him listen before the man realizes, “Oh your Japanese is very good!” There are also interjections of the manga version of Tony popping up every so often, and interviews with real Japanese-foreigner couples during the three acts of the film.
What I liked the most was the cinematography and set up of shots. While some of the shots I wonder about its significance (usually because it looks unnecessary), the framing was brilliant. I loved the shot where you saw the side profile of the father in focus, and Saori’s next to him but blurred, and it was the scene when he gravely told his daughter that he didn’t approve of their relationship. I also enjoyed the soundtrack – and lack of it. Most of the time there’s an English song playing in the background, but there is one pivotal scene where it’s just Saori and the song played is Japanese. It was like an expression of herself, because Saori realizes that she can’t live without him and that she should have done better at their relationship. There is also a scene where she walks around the empty house (Tony has gone to America) and there is absolute silence. It emphasizes her loneliness and emptiness. I was irritated when I heard someone yawn loudly during this scene, because I think it was a poignant scene. Music comes in when she realizes that Tony made an effort to learn how to properly launder her clothes, and it disappears when she starts sobbing, making her cries more raw to the ears.
It’s a fun romantic comedy if you’re willing to just accept the shallow differences in culture. The film never goes in too deep about the conflicts they have. Then again, with such globalization and with Tony’s nature in being such a student of Japan, you’d wonder if there would really be many conflicts. In the end, people are people, and emotions are the same universally. Even Japanese people are different from other Japanese people. I don’t think the point of the film was to show them having many cultural barriers to overcome. The main barrier was themselves, and being able to trust each other and open up lines of communication to become a better couple. That is a universal message to all.
I’d give this film a 6/10, extra point for it’s good fun. Also, because I snorted while laughing in one of the scenes.
Photo credit: nyt