Sunday, January 20, 2013

Akko-chan: The Movie (Himitsu no Akko-chan / 映画 ひみつのアッコちゃん)

I'm Old!

The Japanese manga and anime universe have more than enough content to be adapted into their respective film version, and it's quite the even playing field with those geared for predominantly male, or the female crowd, get made. With the latter there are films like Paradise Kiss, and the more recent one is Akko-Chan, which if my memory serves me well, was something that was on telly during the days of growing up. It's female fantasy stuff, where a young girl with a magic cosmetic compact, get to be whoever she wants to be, in grown up fashion, each time she chants a slogan, which is reversible once she delivers help, and goes back to being a 10 year old girl.

Riko Yoshida plays the young girl Atsuko Kagami, who's a fan of cosmetics, and quite the vain pot. When her compact got broken, she got visited by a Mirror Spirit (Teruyuki Kagawa) who grants her a magical compact, and the rest is history. She can transform to just about anyone in any profession, something which is advantageous to anyone who cannot decide just what they want to be when they grow up. Haruka Ayase takes over the older Atsuko aka Akko-Chan character, and soon enough finds excuses to skip winter cram school, to intern at a cosmetics company under young executive Naoto Hayase (Masaki Okada) who had seemed to lose his passion and enthusiasm given the various bureaucratic red tape he has to deal with on a daily basis, especially under the doom and gloom of an unpopular takeover by the Yakuza-ish led Kito (Takeshi Kaga).

Being a mainstream Japanese film adapted from a separate medium for fans and non-fans alike, Akko-Chan the Movie is pretty self contained, following a formula with a story that contains the origin, a primary adversary or situation to address, before a finale that's usually heartwarming or poignant. Romance usually gets thrown in somewhere, as well as a good message or two about life in general. But before you balk at the romance bit, where there's a 17 year gap between Akko-Chan and Naoto, not to mention the little girl being a minor, let's just say that things stayed rather platonic, but never groomed in any sense of the word. How this developed was something close to yet another Haruka Ayase film Cyborg She, and I felt was an extremely nice touch to get all the morbidity out of the way.

One may dismiss this from the onset being a fluffy chick flick, but surprisingly the story contains strong sub-arcs, like the great divide between management and the rank and file workers, of mergers, acquisitions and the threats of loss jobs when the board decides to take unpopular tough stances on policy, and how one should excel in one's job, and keeping the faith, inspiration and enthusiasm going. Comedy during this film's central corporate struggle theme comes in the form of Akko-Chan's methods in achieving her aims, or doing what she thinks is right, through the use of magic and impersonation as other characters. While it's manipulation and cheating, this again goes full circle to the lessons that the kid learns at the end of the day.

Haruka Ayase piled on the kitschy-cuteness starring as an immature girl stuck in a young adult's body, with jokes that naturally played on this fish out of water concept with a student being overwhelmed by the adult nature of work, office politics, as well as being caught up with conversational pieces that are too complicated for a sixth grader. Ayase continues to bring about innocence to roles that she tackles, and Akko-Chan fits her perfectly like hand in glove, bringing the character to life with her chirpiness and hyperactivity. Fans of Handsome Suits will also note the supporting appearance of actors Shosuke Tanihara and Muga Tsukaji in bit roles as a spineless executive and a security guard respectively.

It's formula but full of heart, and that's coming from someone who isn't the intended demographic target audience, with a clear message of not forgetting the simpler values learnt through elementary school that we can apply in life. A definite recommend!

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