Not all Japanese manga adaptations for the screen come solely from the action adventure, science fiction and fantasy genres, because there's one entire segment of the population left out if the focus was solely on those. Romance, sugar and spice and all things nice are what drives young women to comics such as Nana and Paradise Kiss, and the latter now has its big screen introduction, making its International Premiere at ScreenSingapore.
From Ai Yazawa, creator of Nana, comes Paradise Kiss, that contains all the necessary ingredients to have made the comics wildly popular, such as pretty lasses, handsome hunks, romance triangles, and fashion from head to toe. It's quite easy to spot a manga series targeted at the female population for all its wistful looking images often adorned with flowery imagery, and one thing I can never fathom is how unrealistically slim everyone looks, even the guys turn out tall, lanky and personally, very feminine looking too. But I digress, and I guess it's just me, I think.
And who would have thought those exact same elements got ported over here so fittingly, with the film putting in the effort to keep to its source's look and feel consistently, where everyone's quite fashionable (even school uniforms are chic), driving sleek cars, living their dreams (well almost) and except for the protagonist, just about nothing absolutely fazes them in their outlook of life. But that's of course the crux of the story and possibly its appeal, in carrying positive, self motivational messages to its audience in print or on screen, that everyone should not accept the status quo if the status quo means being miserable. Being bold to break conventions and challenging one's comfort zone toward the path of happiness, is the given and much touted mantra here, so it's no surprise that many would appreciate the moments of fantasy offered by the Paradise Kiss dream.
Paradise Kiss follows the story of Yukari Hayasaka (Keiko Kitagawa), a teenager who isn't too bright, but managed to really slog her way into one of the most prestigious high schools in the country. Mom is adamant that she continues to get a good education, and her comparison with her younger brother just makes life barely tolerable. Scouted by Arashi Nagase (Kento Kaku) on the streets who insists that she become his group's model in their independent fashion label, and of course their model in the run up to their fashion school graduation. The usual ding-donging occurs, before she finally agrees, and thus introduces her into the Paradise Kiss label made up of student fashion designers such as de facto leader George Koizumi (Osamu Mukai), transsexual Isabella (Shunji Igarashi, who would have thought he was from a boy band), Arashi and his girlfriend Miwako (Aya Osama).
Granted their relationship isn't a smooth one throughout, especially when their outlook in life are on opposite ends of the spectrum, but it allows the story to go back to the classic zero to hero outline for the Yukari Hayasaka character, with Keiko Kitagawa playing the role with aplomb, whether be it her kawaii, youthful nature or the blossomed, sophisticated, renowned fashion model, though a huge chuck of that development we don't get to see, and neither do we witness her metamorphosis in detail, which you'll have to accept at face value when it happens over the course of a few minutes, making it a unreal and truly is the stuff fantasy is made up of.
For a youth film with a school premise and setting, eyelids do not bat when classes are frequently missed, although it leads to the subplot of Yukari having identified the calling in her life, and the theme that education goes beyond the fall walls of a school, and learning and the gaining of knowledge can happen anywhere, which in the case of Yukari, happens to be in an industry that was never in her books, and from well meaning advice dished out by those who care and have gone through the school of harder knocks, such as Isabella in a somewhat contrived scene to compare the hardships she had to go through when coming out of the closet.
And of course the fashion industry is something that would appeal wholeheartedly to its intended demographics, with characters decked out in different thematic outfits and influences, although there are certainly some designs that will require courage to put on and step out of the house and definitely not ready to wear, off the shelf stuff. The Yazademy fashion school would probably be the hotbed for fantastical ideas, but alas we do not see much of the school, nor its students, and even the showcase at the finale, isn't as huge or competitive narratively, with the director opting to focus instead on the Paradise Kiss team, and ignoring the others so much so that you may imagine where the keen competition actually is.
Narratively, like most romances for teens, it's really lightweight with threads on relationships, unrequited affections, young puppy love, and check this out - at least two romantic triangles highlighted that would put romance nuts in a fix as to root who should go out or end up with whom since there's a common factor involved in "hunk" Hiroyuki Tokumori (Yusuke Yamamoto, hunk meh?). But that said, each triangle also do not have sufficient depth beyond casual dates, and before you know it, it's a few years later for its much touted, brand new ending that differs from the comic books. Alas it is this ending that took the cake, being especially self indulgent and unbearably, and unnecessarily, stretching its run time, justifying the budget spent in shooting in New York City.
Still, if teeny bopper love stories are your cup of tea, with whimsical characters at hand to whisk you off your feet in dreamboat romances, girls being saccharine sweet and acting cute, and guys acting all cool and confident nary breaking a sweat under any circumstances, then Paradise Kiss is that film for you.