There She Goes
Prior to the movie, I never understood what's a "Dried Up Woman" in the Japanese context, other than to imagine how suggestive that title would probably ever be when unceremoniously bestowed on a lady. Hotaru the Movie is based on the manga series by Satoru Hiura, and in 2007, a television series got produced starring Haruka Ayase and Naohito Fujiki in the title roles of lovebirds Hotaru Takano and Seiichi Takano respectively, a series which got a second season in 2010, from which the movie continues from.
Those not brought up to speed by the television series would find it suffice to know that Hataru Takano works for an interior design company, and she's quite the capable career lady, she's really the opposite when at home. A sloth if you'd like, preferring to relax on her veranda, stretched out and with beer in hand. Housework is not in her vocabulary, and messiness is but a second nature. Her boss Seiichi Takano coincidentally happens to be her landlord's son, which leads to her constant, cloying calls of "Boss", after a relationship develops.
The entry point into the film is an opportunity to set up a big budget spectacle for a romantic comedy to work, with the first act introducing the basic tenets of each lead character, and with Rome being put forth as a likely potential honeymoon venue. True to her character, Hotaru prefers to laze at home rather than to travel hundreds of miles to tour an overseas location, but the business trip opportunity that Seiichi gets himself onto, meant a fairly reluctant Hotaru going along after realizing that it just might be fulfilling one of the dreams of her partner. Cue the many touristy shots of famous landmarks that the duo will visit throughout the course of the film, which I'm sure will bring back nice memories of anyone who had visited the Italian capital city before.
But in expanding the storyline, writer Fumie Mizuhashi introduced a brother and sister in Rio (Yasuko Matsuyuki) and Yu Saeki (Yuya Tegoshi) whom Hotaru and Seiichi will encounter in their honeymoon, which somehow become one of those unwanted gatecrashers to the party. They bring about emotional baggage that threaten to stall the narrative and shift focus, especially when Hotaru and Rio start t hang out to look for the purportedly kidnapped Seiichi, and with Rio introduced as yet another Dried Up Woman as well. Yu's role is to add some comedic flair as the childish brother of Rio, although this role doesn't seem to add up too much.
Thankfully, this film triumphs in having the presence of Haruka Ayase, and between her and Naohito Fujiki, it's hands down just who the real star of the film is, and the more popular character of the two. Seiichi is a little stiff and played too seriously, prim and proper almost all the time, so it's without a doubt that Hotaru herself is the main draw and attraction. Ayase nails it as the zany, bubbly girl who really can't be too bothered about decorum, whether in Japan or overseas, and has enough antics up her sleeve to endear herself to just about anyone. It's really laugh out loud material with Ayase showing a knack for comedic timing, and some of the best scenes involve both leading characters misunderstanding and misreading intentions with what's actually being said or done, and the constant embarrassment Hotaru sometimes bring into their relationship.
Those who cannot stand anyone who cloys, or acts cute, may find it a definite turn off, but clearly this is a film not meant for you then, since it's meant for the legions of fans of both the manga and television series to continue where they last left off. There are a couple of surprises all contained within the final act that will please fans, and open up more avenues either for a follow up film, or yet another television series. Only time will tell!