Monday, October 19, 2009

[TIFF 2009 Review] My Rainy Days (天使の恋) (World Premiere)

Why So Serious?

By the time the movie ended, I had enjoyed how it never exploited its opening scenes, where the two lead characters make eye contact in a number of fleeting moments and chance encounters, but these were left as they were, for the audience to know and appreciate that these two lovers were meant to be, though just how would be to sit through this romantic tale which had quite the first 30 minutes, which in itself could stand alone as a complete short film, since the character of Shosuke Tanihara (of Handsome Suits fame) was rather inconspicuous in allowing the development of the character of Nozomi Sasaki's 17 year old Rio first.

During the stage appearance, Nozomi Sasaki had expressed her initial reservations in taking on this role as her feature film debut, and it's not too difficult to understand why. As a teen idol and successful model, I suppose a role like this which called for some rather tame nudity (complete with tantalizing poster to boot) dealing with under-aged prostitution, wouldn't do anyone's image any wonders. Not to mention that her character of Rio is a ringleader of sorts in an elaborate scheme of vice involving teenage hooker recruitment from the pretext of befriending nerdy, weak peers and exploiting their want of belonging, leeching on sugar daddies to support their extravagant, material lifestyles through their bodies, and meeting men off internet sites for sex and blackmail, since they are after all, minors.

In short, Nozomi Sasaki couldn't ask for a more challenging film debut, and it's safe to say that she excelled as Rio the supreme manipulator and mean material girl, who together with her posse of Miho (Nanaka), Maki (Mitsuki Oishi) and new recruit Tomoko (Hikaru Yamamoto) who treats her as her saviour from bully Naoko (Saki Kagami), provide for some fashionista opportunities in the opening half hour, where fans will get to follow a lingering camera along the contours of her back which was a tad exploitative in a way. In any case by the time the movie is through, she has shone in her debut having to perform to the extreme in being pushy and aggressive, yet delicate and fragile, having her range of emotions put to the test.

The first 30 minutes is bait for her fans, to have their attention drawn into the remainder of this romantic film, which is a series of firsts both for Nozomi as a film actress, and for Yuri Kanchiku as the writer-director, who had adopted the usual romantic tragedy formula in having two attractive leads being challenged by an illness placed between them as an obstacle, and here Yuri goes the full circle which made it rather bittersweet.

I had thoroughly enjoyed the madcap caper Handsome Suits at last year's festival, and Shosuke Tanihara was one of the main draws (besides Sasaki of course) as he had come across then as an actor with perfect comic timing. Here, the comedy is dropped entirely and his character of the Japanese History professor Kouki Ozawa is very sombre in mood, and an anti-social. Credit goes to Yuri in crafting two very different characters, one the outgoing, go-getter in Rio, and here, a man who has resigned to fate given his brain tumour which cannot be cured nor operated on, and given an ultimatum and expiry to his lifespan. Shosuke made his character's pain believable, and you empathize with that acute awareness of mortality and how temporary life on Earth can be, opting to be aloof because of the pain of not being able to let go when the time comes, or to cause hurt to loved ones should he depart, which is quite definite. This lonely man is morbidly counting down his days, and is miserable to say the least.

Which to Rio isn't an obstacle given her penchant for older men, though in this case it's not for his material wealth, but in that sharing of a certain inexplicable connection with the professor. The romance proper began with a mix up of photographs and a meeting up in person, and the schemer in her sets forth in her pursuit of Kouki, who has very valid reasons not to reciprocate any feelings since she's still essentially a minor. In fact, she's so much the live-wire to his deadpan behaviour, that it causes him embarrassment at times, not to mention unwanted attention from others (check out the looks on those subway passengers), and the bewilderment at why of all people she had chosen to stalk his life, where everyone in their right minds will hesitate no further in accepting her declaration of love.

Needless to say the film follows the standard romantic flick formula thereafter once Rio's past lifestyle pattern has been ditched, and the narrative gets filled with plenty of subplots including thematic ones like what one does in the past, will continue to haunt in the present in a cause-and-effect. While she's the ray of sunshine to someone's life, her determined drift from lesbian experimentation (or at least that's what I would call it) brought about gloomy skies to someone else's, and again should this film make it here, I'm betting some cash that a scene will be snipped. That aside, the perennial scenes in a hospital also take up significant time toward the latter half of the film, where the signs of emotional expression get restrained to great effect that only a Japanese film could offer.

Romances seem to be a staple in this year's Japanese film offerings in the festival (or at least that's how it looks like, according to my selection), and there's another one film which dealt with a teacher-student relationship as well which I unfortunately had missed out on, otherwise it will be nice to put these two side by side and see how the different issues on forbidden love get tackled. Nonetheless My Rainy Days is a beautifully shot (Red Camera's getting popular these days) and with two charismatic, attractive actors in lead roles, I would think that this film would be quite the box office draw when it premieres theatrically next month.

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