Again this film marks one of the many I've missed from last year's Tokyo International Film Festival, so I'm pretty glad it finally made its way to our shores. The premise is a sure giveaway of the plot, but anyone wishing to watch a Japanese romantic weepy will know what you're in for from the start. I Give My First Love To You doesn't deviate from the formula, but like others that came before it and for others in the same genre to come, what fans almost always do is to hold onto whatever sliver of hope there is for the couple in question to be together forever in a happily ever after, against the odds of what medical condition one or both of them suffer from.
Here the lovebirds are portrayed by Masaki Okada as Takuma Kakunouchi, the boy who suffers from a weak heart condition and is given a death sentence that he will not cross 20 years of age, and Mao Inoue as Mayu Taneda, the daughter of his doctor (Toru Nakamura) with whom he falls in love with during his frequent trips to the hospital when young. Needless to say they grow up together, and in one of their childish games, he promises that he will survive and marry her, wished upon a four leafed clover she finds in the field. They grow up as a couple and have each other for support in school, but as Takuma is aware, his days are numbered and are looming over the horizon, and so is contemplating giving her up so that hopefully she can find someone else to grow older with.
Much of the scenes that require you to pull out your tissue packs involve how clingy Mayu can be in not relenting in her feelings and her resolve that one day Takuma may just pull through his condition, or that the proper heart donor may just come along, which the narrative of course will introduce, but not without putting the characters through some morality checks, and in so take the opportunity to explore why the necessity to keep some red tape onto these medical administration and the technicalities and rationale behind such confidentiality clauses, otherwise, well, you can see how family members can be put in a spot, be it the donor's or the recipient's. There's a key scene that makes one think how what can be perceived as selfishness, is nothing more than again that bit of hope every family member and loved one hold on to.
The narrative doesn't promise much about how Takuma tries to scout for an appropriate chap for his girlfriend to fall in love with, since Yoshihiko Hosoda's Takashi was a little too pushy and in fact, irritating to begin with, nor does it have a lot of screen time to dwell on the potential distraction Takuma faces with another fellow female patient Ryoko (Yoko Moriguchi), but whatever it managed to cover in between the primary couple's life touches on the necessity for them to spend almost every waking moment with their significant other and to make such moments count, which Mayu knows and Takuma finally learns to appreciate a lot more. The latter half of the film then switches tact to demonstrate the extent how a loved one will likely go through in their grief and hanging onto whatever little hope a situation may bring, and that extends to family members as well, not such the romantic other half. After all, any death or potential death affects a larger community.
I will not deny this makes a perfect date movie, since the message here is quite clear on the appreciation of someone else no matter how quirky they can be, and never to doubt anyone's commitment. Between the two leads whose performances were key in fleshing out the intricate characters and making them believable and engaging, Mao Inoue shines as that cheerful ray of sunshine in Takuma's life, and her antics are what brings about the light hearted moments in the film. It's melodramatic territory sometimes, but your typical Japanese romantic movie that will tug at your heartstrings this will be. Be prepared and pack those tissues. Recommended.