I've seen some underrated films on IMDb, but this one takes the cake. A 5.1, for this!? You people have simply and solely based your ratings on the commonality and familiarity of its story lines while completely ignoring its execution, which is fantastic. This film has a heart, and how many times can you say that nowadays?
The plot line mostly concerns two people: a world renowned skier who retired at a young age after breaking his leg while in competition; and a woman who is preparing for her wedding in an ice chapel. Sounds like your typical American comeback sports story mixed with your typical Japanese romance, right? Well, the execution is anything but typical. Seriously, the only way you're not going to like this film is if you have a stark predisposition against the plot lines described above, because the sports theme of this film is executed about as well as it can possibly be executed. This could have just overtaken "Lump of Sugar" (2006) as my favorite sports themed Asian movie of all time.
CAMERA-WORK and DIRECTION: First of all, the entire film takes place in the snowy mountains, which are captured beautifully. Secondly, the direction is top notch during the ski sequences, which use angles that accentuate the speed and excitement of the sport. Overall, the camera-work and direction is so impressive that it lifts the predictable finale to a whole other level of excitement. I ended up watching it and rewatching that sequence over 10 consecutive times. Outstanding stuff. Here's a clip of the first few minutes of the movie as an example of what to expect: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G26Z6GE-aRw.
CHARACTERS: Every one of the characters is likable, and the two leads are developed enough so that the viewer cares about their well-being. The script takes time to establish the culture of the small resort town and how the relationship between it and the skier has deteriorated after his retirement. The filmmakers explore this scenario thoroughly and it provides great buildup and anticipation for the finale. The internal struggles of the wife-to-be are also juxtaposed with the skier to provided added motivation for his success.
ACTING: It's all about the chemistry between the actors. Eita and Rena Tanaka have this chemistry, as does Eita and the two actors who play the other mischievous skiers. A number of supporting stars also provide their own highlight moments (e.g., Eriko Sato in that hilarious snowy brawl, etc.).
SCORING: Superb! It's a bit repetitive but the main theme is really great stuff. A sample of it is included in the link referenced above.
SURPRISES: All of this talk about predictability and commonality will probably lead one to believe that this is entirely by-the-book. Not so. There's one scene involving an "avalanche maker" that was very surprising. Also, you can predict the ending but you still have no idea whether or not the characters will succeed in their goals. Remember, this is an Asian movie, which means that the conventional "sports movie happy ending" is rare.
Let's put it this way. If someone were given the assignment to create the best "drama romance comedy sports comeback hybrid" in existence, they've passed with flying colors. It's quite simply the perfect film of its kind.
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