Reading other people's diaries can be a great lesson or a great tragedy. Or make a great film...
Akin to other melodramatic 'cute'-style Japanese romantic dramas, Closed Note offers perhaps not an overly accurate depiction of Japanese semi-rural town life, nor a realistic, true-to-life story, but instead presents a wonderfully heart-warming, endearing, and memorable tale of true love and tragedy.
The basic story is that of a young woman, Kae, who has moved into a small apartment while studying to become an Elementary School Teacher. In the apartment, she discovers a notebook left behind by a previous owner and begins to read it. The book turns out to be a diary of Ibuki, who had just begun working at a nearby school. As Kae's life progresses, so too is Ibuki's life revealed, mirroring and contrasting two tales of love and ambition.
Kae's life is simple; she studies, works in a fountain pen shop and practices for a mandolin concert. This is expertly intercut by the slowly-revealed story of Ibuki's emotionally open and honest experiences with her new class as Kae gains more confident with reading someone's diary. The mirroring between the two women's lives is the key area of interest in this film, and a main focus of the dramatic tension the audience feels. While occasionally predictable, the lessons Kae learns from the troubles Ibuki overcomes in her diary are credible, if equally doused in the beautiful sweetness the rest of the film is drenched in. Without wanting to reveal too much of the story, I can simply say that it is a tragic love story that doesn't only deliver to the romantic enthusiasts. It also delivers relatively humanistic problems a teacher encounters and delivers melancholy and tragedy as well as insufferable happiness and the joy of overcoming such problems. While the film does, thankfully, avoid a Disney-style happy ending, where all the loose ends are tied together, I do feel the film could have ended 4 or 5 minutes earlier without an unnecessary resolution (which, to me at least, felt a bit tacked-on). However, this is purely personal taste, and I believe the majority of audiences would prefer the film in its current form, as it does avoid the film being ending on such a disheartening note.
The acting of the two lead women (Erika Sawajiri as Kae and Yuko Takeuchi as Ibuki) is outstanding. Both performances manage to progress to their heart wrenchingly tragic conclusion, and certainly draw emotion out. I'll readily admit, I shed a tear for each of their stories. Each character has such enjoyable habits and quirks Kae being absent-minded and easily flustered, while Ibuki is sincere and meditative, seeking goodness and wholeness in every act. Complementing their performances, the two male love-interest are equally quirky and thoroughly enjoyable to watch. The main male love interest, Ishitobi, plays a slightly eccentric illustrator who gains an interest in Kae, but refuses to follow a traditional romance role by being oblivious to certain actions and naïve in his emotional status. The other key male role, (and this may be seen as an extremely mild spoiler to a quirk of filming, not story) Ibuki's love interest, is played (by a wonderful twist of screen writing and cinematography) by Kae's favourite male blockbuster-actor. Of course, from reading a diary, she has to use her imagination for certain aspects and this was one that certainly made a laugh ripple through the audience. All performances, from friends to the fantastic short scenes containing the Mandolin teacher (you simply must watch out for these) are nothing short of superb and flawlessly portray the film's messages.
As for the visual side of the film, there is nothing but praise from my corner. Throughout the film is a gentle mix of soft, sunny autumn colours, a calm atmosphere and absorbing, melodious movement (from the actors and camera). Without wanting to bore you with the mechanics, the film overall manages to show an environment that could be no more ideal it is quiet, friendly, clean and beautiful, filled with a superb combination of old and new, nature and man-made, organised and intriguingly scattered. The film is absolutely gorgeous.
I was lucky enough to watch the World Première of this film at Pusan International Film Festival in an outside theatre. While watching this film, I was so absorbed that my usual annoyance by external noise or movement (a fussy film-watcher is entitled to these habits), was brushed aside and the cold weather, hard seats, slightly echoing sound and constant murmur and fidgeting of the massive audience didn't detract from the experience at all. I will look forward to a cinema release of this, then after that the DVD release. A must-watch for anyone who has even a vague interest in Japan, romance, tragedy, overcoming hurdles in life, truly beautiful filming and people.
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