Adapted from Asano Inio's acclaimed and popular Shogakukan's Weekly Young Sunday manga of the same name, the film follows the uncertain future of its young protagonist, Inoue Meiko (Miyazaki Aoi) who is a twenty-something "OL" (Office Lady) working in the urban jungle of Tokyo. She has been living in Tokyo since moving from the countryside to attend university. She is currently in a long-term, serious relationship with college sweetheart Taneda Naruo (Kora Kengo), a tall and lanky fellow country bumpkin who has come to Tokyo with dreams of starting a band and making it big. Together with college buddies drummer Yamada Jiro AKA "Billie" (Kiritani Kenta) and bassist Kato Kenichi AKA "Debu" (real life J-Rock "SampoMaster's" band member Kondo Yoichi), they have been playing small clubs for a number of years.
Growing increasingly frustrated with the boredom at work, Meiko makes a fateful decision to quit her steady job to try and find a more meaningful opportunity in life much to Taneda's chagrin. Up-to-now Taneda has been relying on Meiko's income to help pay the bills (aside from his infrequent band gigs, Taneda's sole source of income comes from his "freeter"/part-time job as a graphic artist at a small publishing company). Taneda decides to take his music more seriously and makes a push at getting his band discovered and getting a music contract.
Taneda produces a single called "Solanin", a weepy, rock ballad that he hopes will get his band noticed (the name is a play off of the word "Sora"(Sky) and "Nin"(People) and is interpreted as those who "reach for the sky" i.e. go after their dreams).
Out of the dozen record companies that they solicited only one responds back to their demo submission. Yet when Taneda, Billie and Meiko go meet with the record producer, they are told that they only want them to sign up as a backup band for one of their up-and-coming pop idols.
His confidence shattered, Taneda falls into a deep depression. He ends his relationship with Meiko and disappears for a month. After one last phone call to Meiko, Taneda commits suicide by running his moped past a red light and getting into a deadly traffic accident.
Devastated by Taneda's death, Meiko also falls into a deep depression but thanks to the comfort and support of college friend Kotani Ai (the beautiful Ito Ayumi), Meiko is inspired to learn to play the guitar and continue Taneda's goal. Along with Billie and Kato, Meiko sets off to make Taneda's dream a reality.
Takahiro's film follows a number of other similar "chase a dream" music themed movies including Otani Kentaro's "Nana"(2005), Honda Ryuichi's "GS Wonderland" (2008) and most recently Kobayashi Takeshi's "Bandage" (2010) to name only a few but unfortunately doesn't quite really set itself apart from these films let alone match their brilliance. Screenwriter Takahashi Izumi's adaptation of Asano Inio's original story may be a good interpretation of the source material but the film itself covers much of the same ground as other better films and unfortunately comes off as yet another tired, overly sentimental and melodramatic teen drama.
As mentioned, Miyazaki Aoi (Gaichu, Nana, Su-Ki-Da) is great as Meiko and does a commendable job of elevating the material from boring romance to heartwarming and inspiring drama. Miyazaki not only does a good job of making Meiko a real person but also a credible musician (Miyazaki actually learned to play guitar and sing for this role).
The supporting cast is also very likable and charming. Kora Kengo (Bandage, Sad Vacation) seems to enjoy playing the "tortured soul" part and excels at it here. Kiritani Kenta (Crows Zero Series, Rookies, 69) also is type-casted again as a tough but lovable punk. Musician Kondo Yoichi is pretty charming in his role as jovial Kato and his comedy bits are hilarious. Gorgeous Ito Ayumi (Bandage, Swallowtail Butterfly)is again given a nice supporting role but I wish she would be given the chance to headline a film for once as she is a decent actress.
The music is another highlight especially the main "Solanin" theme (performed by J-Rock band Asian Kung-Fu Generation).
While the film itself is pretty disappointing from a story standpoint, the only other saving grace about the film (aside from Miyazaki Aoi's acting) is the beautiful and stunning cinematography by Kondo Ryuto. His deep long shots of the Tokyo skyline awash in blue sky are simply magnificent and breathtaking.
Miyazaki is definitely a true talent and hopefully she will get more of the recognition she deserves for her work and maybe we will even get to see her in Hollywood as I see her as being just as talented if not more so than either Kikuchi Rinko(Babel)or Kuriyama Chiaki (Battle Royale, Exte, Kill Bill Vol. 1).