Nada So So, loosely translated as Tears For You, broke box office records in Japan last year. It's a romance story, so its box office clout is no surprise, especially when starring teenage idols Satoshi Tsumabuki (The Waterboys) and Masami Nagasawa (Crying Out Love from the Center of the World, Robocon). Given the screening I attended today was a full house, and almost everyone female, I guess I'm one of the rare few in the theatre who's there to watch Masami in her new movie, as I confess I'm totally smitten by that sunshine smile of hers.
Directed by Nobuhiro Doi, who helmed one of my favourite movies of 2005 - Be With You, Nada So So tells the story of the Shingaki siblings - Yota (Satoshi) and Kaoru (Masami). Left to fend for themselves at a very young age as their father had abandoned them, and their mom left for the heavens, these two half-siblings have only each other, with Yota taking on a surrogate father-like role in looking after Kaoru, working intense shifts and different jobs in order to pay for her education. As vowed on their mother's deathbed, he is obligated to provide the best for her, and does so almost to the extreme.
It serves as a reminder not to overwork oneself, and to take time to smell the roses. Kaoru, having been brought up in a small island, makes it to the mainland in Okinawa, and her physical presence in her brother's life brings about an added dimension to her brother's love life with girlfriend Keiko (Kumiko Aso). You see, while they are siblings, they aren't blood relations, and therefore to some, there are some (sexual) tensions between the two although they would like to discount it. People around them do feel, and while it's against natural order to those who are unaware of the true nature of their relations, these two do keep their feelings well under wraps.
In fact, there's nothing too "wow" about the narrative, as any seasoned romantic film lover will be able to stay one or two steps well ahead of the story development. I'd come to think that the formula has been so tried and tested, anyone can transplant similar stories, with just an update in setting, premise, having different characters, and tada, a new movie. Okinawa provides plenty of picturesque scenes for the movie, and they are well utilized.
Both Satoshi Tsumabuki and Masami Nagasawa bring vivid credibility to their characters, layering them with as much complexities as possible, often done through subtle gestures - that twinkle in the eye, that wry smile. Their chemistry as siblings is totally believable, as are their feelings for each other which they try desperately hard to hide. They make it believable for an audience to sympathize with their predicament, and showcased their ability to exhibit their brotherly-sisterly love for each other, as well as their attempts to hide behind veiled confessions and declarations. This might be a biased statement - but I thought Masami shuttled her Kaoru character with ease, between country bumpkin and smart sister, between that smiling happy girl and that sad depressing feeling of not being able to love someone the way she wants to.
As always, there are numerous opportunities about for anyone soft hearted enough to fall prey to emptying their tear ducts from sad scenes, or scenes that want to elicit that response from you, so bring along some kleenex just in case. In the screening I attended, there was no lack of sniffles and sobs heard all around.
Do remember to stay throughout the end credits, as the theme song gets played over a montage sequence of photographs from that photo album, and finishes off with a very beautiful picture of Masami in a kimono central to the final act. Also, you'll be rewarded with a bonus scene right at the end.
For the romantics out there, it's a little different in that it's not your usual boy-girl relationship, but it's love as strong nonetheless.