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I've never seen the two male leads in anything else. I was most impressed with Shosuke Tanihara because he had the actorly and comedic chops to show the character's gradual seduction by, and eventual disillusionment with, the trappings of being one of the "beautiful people." The best comedy acting should look effortless, but it is also the most difficult to pull off--more so in live performance than in film, where a performance can be sliced and diced to sharpen timing. Tanihara is the real deal, OR, at least, this director was able to get this high-level of work out of him. I look forward to seeing him in other kinds of roles and hope that he doesn't fall into the trap of being too handsome to not look like a trademarked version of himself. I especially would like to see him in dramatic roles, because the best comic actors make the best dramatic actors, more often than the other way around.
Muga Tsukaji as Takuro is no slouch, either. This is a character who wears his heart on everything--most literally on his restaurant, which is called Kokoroya (Heart Shop). The actor does this in such an organic way that the exaggeration required to make him a heightened caricature in no way robs him of his believability as an ugly duckling everyman. Just as much, I hope to see him in dramatic roles, and not limited to playing a Jabba the Hut type villain.
I agree that the cheesiness of some of the plot devices was forgivable, but not necessarily because it's a Japanese picture. I think the cheesiness effectively serves the aims of caricature required to make this not just a sweet little romantic comedy, but also a sharp satire on consumerist superficiality. I especially liked the sly little dig at the Japanese preoccupation with incorporating English into conversations solely for the purpose of being fashionable. Americans do this with Japanese and other languages, though perhaps not to as great an extent. I don't think American filmmakers are any less capable of producing this type of pointed commentary, but the type of production that can do this has to be relatively free of commercial obstructionism, and there appears to be less of that, at least in the Japanese export market. Not having regular access to the standard Japanese cinematic fare that doesn't make it overseas, it's not for me to say that Japanese film, in toto, adheres to some higher standard of independence than U.S. film. I'm just happy that we're getting the good stuff.
I'd also like to comment on the use of color, since no one else has mentioned it yet. There was an intentional manipulation of color in the sequences where the transformed Annin encounters the barely real world of "Let's Handsome." The clothes' colors are saturated, and the skin tones are desaturated and tinted gold. Still photos of all the handsome men at the beginning of the movie are hand tinted with obvious makeup effects. This sets up a dramatic irony for the mind of our hero to miss and the audience to pick up, on a subliminal level. He's enamored of the "Let's Handsome" experience and doesn't recognize its artificiality for what it is until (as he says) it's too late, but the audience is clued in from the get-go and has to watch him helplessly as he gets sucked into that world. However, this isn't an alienating device, because anybody who's ever felt inferior because of his or her looks can also feel the power of that seduction and find it hard to resist, and therefore completely empathize with him.
The only serious downside I found with this movie is that it was obvious how it was going to end, so if they were going for a surprise, that didn't work. The details were mildly surprising, but the outcome wasn't. Apart from that, a couple of stereotypical gay character expositions were mildly annoying more than blatantly offensive, and the Japan-specific references to worn-out jokes from old TV shows were a little baffling, but more of a blip than a buzz kill.
I think this would be particularly good movie for adolescents and the parents of adolescents to see, not necessarily with each other. Kids who are on the cusp of doing something stupid to themselves because of poor self image could benefit from the underlying message, especially the ending.
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