Filmed on location mostly in Paris, amongst other European locations, the film does seem a tad contrived when its European characters start to converse in flawless Japanese, not only to the Japanese characters, but to one another, that all is indeed forgiven when a sign comes up after that moment of wanting to write this off, to explain that it is out of due consideration for us the viewers to do so. It's done in such a whimsical, cute manner, that all is forgiven as it fits the one of its lead characters Nodame (Juri Ueno) perfectly in how this film should be approached - childish fun mashed with the stoicness of the classical.
And that's just how its two lead characters are in the film, which is spawned from the television series. But no fret of course, as despite being without a recap of sorts, you'll soon find your own feet as the story moves along, knowing who the allies are, the jealous enemies, and that gigantic task of having to turn around a semi-professional orchestra from its doldrums of part-timers who cannot devote all the time to practice and concerts, which is the main dilemma faced by talented conductor Chiaki Shinichi (Hiroshi Tamaki), in a typical Japanese zero to hero storyline.
But that aside, there were a number of things I enjoyed from the film, and topping the list is Juri Ueno's performance as the siao char bo (read: Crazy woman) who's really enamoured and obsessed with Chiaki, who sends her heart fluttering each time he says or does something that encourages or spurs her on. It's that crazy, comical devotion that somehow inexplicably endears, and Ueno can really balance something that's too-good-to-be-true demure, to being unbelievably gruff and coarse should her character Nodame feel that she has to defend her man from other wandering eyes. She's not the typical goody-two-shoes or the damsel in distress, but holds her own (even if she doesn't know it yet) in the talent department as she fuses her character into the music she plays on the piano. It's the same score and musical sheet one reads, but it's how you interpret it through a performance that makes one stand out. I was actually clamouring for more, but director Hideki Takeuchi surely knows how to make you beg for more
That being said, Hiroshi Tamaki too shines as the assured, relatively new conductor who has to chalk up more experience points in the orchestra circuit. Losing out to a rival in conducting one of the more famous orchestras, he gets assigned to one of the oldest, though dwindling in recent times, as its resident conductor, and little does he know that he has to start and build all the sections from scratch, burdened by the thought of having to carry on its rich legacy. Having relationship woes doesn't help, as he delves head on into sprucing up what would essentially be his baby to manage.
Then there's the film education portion for those who are classical music idiots, like me, with those thankful voiceovers / subtitles which through character thoughts, enlighten you to the world of classical music via its more famous composers and musical pieces. And in some way too becomes an introductory lesson in music appreciation, as background, context and meaning are all shared, and you will actually walk out of this film happy that you've learnt something useful after spending two hours in front of what was billed as a romantic comedy.
Some bits of animation make it to the film to enhance the delusions of Nodame especially when she starts to imagine and have her mind wander off to some really absurd moments, and Ueno does have moments of cartoony, physical comedy that are likely to make you laugh aloud. A number of supporting characters from the television series also make their appearance here but don't let that bother you too much since they don't do much with their roles here, paving the way for more in the sequel.
Nodame Cantabile happened to be a film that surpassed my expectations. I had initially thought that it would be somewhat stuffy and for the elitist, but it turned out to be a delightful film that anyone can sit through and find it worthwhile to do so, thanks to the wonderful leads and a whole ensemble of supporting actors, from the likes of Shosuke Tanihara (Handsome Suit) to veteran Naoto Takenaka (oh count the number of zero to hero films he has starred in!), who has to put on this really ridiculous long wig, and I believe fake an accent too.
Don't leave the hall just yet when the end credits roll, as the trailer to the concluding film will play which leads directly from the final scene here. From what I see, it does seem to be a little bit darker with plenty of conflicts swirling and peripheral characters from the movie given some plot significance, I'm already hooked to want to finish this.