Tuesday, October 21, 2008

[TIFF 2008 Review] The Cherry Orchard - Blossoming (櫻の園 -さくらのその-) (World Premiere)

School Sisters

Back in 1990, Shun Nakahara made Sakura No Sono, a movie which is set in an all girls school, where as part of the school's anniversary, the students will get together to stage Anton Chekov's “The Cherry Orchard” play. That story had the group of students taking on different gender roles in the play, but may face cancellation because one of their students was caught smoking. Updated for the current generation, because smoking is no longer a shocking phenomenon amongst girls, so we have, as a dampening reason why “The Cherry Orchard” couldn't be staged, the rationale got refreshed involving unwanted pregnancy and suicide.

But it's not a direct remake because there were obvious changes to names, characters and premise. I would have thought that it could have been to introduce the ensemble cast of actresses collectively to a whole new generation of audience, home and abroad, and if so, then this would have been something similar to television drama serials with updates of such nature to cash in on popularity stakes. I suppose roles like this provide a platform to introduce a whole new lineup of potential stars in one fell swoop, such as Saki Fukuda, Saki Terashima, Anne, Yuko Oshima, and Haneyuri.

Saki Fukuda takes the lead role as Momo Yuki whom the story revolves around. We see how her maverick streak has her do things her own way, and the introduction to her character giving up her violin demonstrates just that. Transferring to a new elite school for girls, Ohka High, the traditions and steep culture seem strange to her (even to me too, such as bidding hello and goodbye to the school structure!), but worse, she comes with pedigree that her mother and sister are prominent alumni of the school, and thus would probably face some pressure to perform.

As the rebel in a school of conformers, she ventures defiantly into an old dilapidated building within the school compound, and finds a manuscript for a play called The Cherry Orchard. But alas she and her group of friends are forbidden to stage it because of some skeletons in the school's closet involving a scandal which tainted their image.

The story seemed to have also adopted the zero to hero formula at first glance, since it had its lead character being clueless about the craft required (in this case, directing a stage play), having to do recruitment and casting amongst her group of friends, trying to motivate them into thinking and performing collectively as one unit, versus dealing with the different expectations of experience gained by each of her cast and crew, and the list goes on, right up to a training montage sequence and the finale where one would have expected some form of big-bang performance. However, it wasn't possible because this meant another movie altogether, but you get my drift.

The adversary that they faced was more dramatic though, being threatened by expulsion by the school administration of not only herself but that of her schoolmates as well should Momo decide to forge ahead with plans to stage the play in any form and even at an external venue, but in comes some form of examination into redemption for an earlier lost generation being robbed of a chance for an unforgettable teaming of skills.

There were a couple of subplots thrown in that just took up screen time and were quite unnecessary, such as a useless romantic subplot for Momo with Shu her busker friend, and the proposition to join his band as they are going to perform big time in Tokyo. The finale also seemed a little too hurried and a tad convenient as well with all the cards falling in the right places, and a terribly quick realization of a lesbian's dreams, which I thought could have been more deftly and subtly handled from the onset given more screen time for it to develop, as this theme seemed to have been carried over from the earlier movie as well.

All in all, this is a movie that doesn't try to attempt a lot more than it could chew, and seemingly satisfied to just coast along from start to end without wanting to complicate matters. Easily an accessible chick flick that has elements to would make it reasonably popular because of the casting.

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