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Japanese "Chick Flick" full of sappy romance and familiar melodrama
"It's not easy being a woman" or at least that seems to be message of Fukugawa Yoshihiro's overly sentimental, too cute, "chick flick" comedy-drama "Girl" (AKA Girls for Keeps). Based on Okuda Hideo's popular female-centric omnibus novel, the film centers on four very different contemporary women in Tokyo, Japan as they try to balance their often dramatic personal and professional lives. The four friends represent an interesting cross section of the young, modern Japanese woman. First there's the bubbly and fashionable 29-year-old Takigawa Yukiko(Karina), a Marketing Associate for an upscale department store who refuses to "grow up" despite the fact that she's almost thirty. Then there's 34-year-old Takeda Seiko (Aso Kumiko), a Supervising Manager at a Real Estate Development Firm who has just been promoted to head a major urban renewal project much to the disdain of her colleague and rival Imai Tetsuo (Kaname Jun). Next there's 34-year-old Kosaka Yoko (Kichise Michiko), a still single Stationary Company Sales Representative who develops a secret crush for her pretty-boy assistant Wada Shintaro (Hayashi Kento) who's twelve years her junior. Lastly, there's 36-year-old single-mother Hirai Takako (Itaya Yuka) a Luxary Car Sales Agent, struggling to raise her 6-year-old son alone after an amicable divorce.
What unfolds is a by-the-number string of J-Dorama clichés and melodramatic contrivances that tests the viewer's tolerance levels for sappy romanticized drama. Tears are shed, various personal obstacles are overcome, hugs are exchanged, heartfelt love is declared and the trendiest of fashion is worn. This is the glamorized and idealized world of "Girl" where every woman is beautiful inside and out, all the men are gorgeous "ikemen" (pretty boys) and everyone wears fabulous stylish clothes.
Director Fukugawa surprises with this his most mainstream project as his previous works such as "60 Sai No Love Letter", "Kamisama No Karute" and "Byakuyako" were more human dramas and intimate independent films. While I found screenwriter Shinozaki Eriko's adaptation of Okuda Hideo's original story a bit too maudlin for my tastes, Fukugawa's direction made the film engaging enough on the whole. This film is very attractive indeed and rich with lush and vibrant color. The high energy music soundtrack complements the film greatly and creates a very hip tone throughout the film. The unapologetic product placement in the film is overwhelming (the ending credits read like a swank and modish "who's who" of fashion apparel, trendy brand names and elitist swag).
The comely and perky cast is highlighted by a "Fab Four" of talented actresses. Model turned actress Karina ("Ashita No Joe", "Koizora") is absolutely adorable as cute fashion trend-setter Yukiko. She gives Yukiko just the right enough amount of sassiness and girlish charm to make the character so likable. Aso Kumiko ("Uchu Kyodai", "Casshern", "Hasami Otoko") is fetching as the tough businesswoman Seiko. Aso successfully captures Seiko's strong business savvy in the workplace as well as touch upon her softer feminine side among her friends. Kichise Michiko, who portrays Elize in the "Nodame Cantabile" TV series and movies, is wonderful as the somewhat shy Yoko. Her scenes dealing with the stigma of being over 30 and unmarried/single are touchingly poignant. We want to root for her as she tries to win the heart of handsome Wada. Itaya Yuka ("Hotaru No Hikari", "Outrage") is lovely as single mother and MILF Takako. Of the foursome, she is the one who seems the most grounded in reality as a young mother and working professional. She represents the "every woman" trying to make ends meet while doing the best she can to raise her young son. We feel for her as she tries her best to not to have her son miss out on experiences like doing flips on the high bar or playing catch ball in the park.
"Girl" also features a talented ensemble cast that includes Dan Rei ("Ace Attorney") as Mitsuyama Harumi, Yukiko's free spirited, coquettish boss who also shares the same love and flair for fashion and life; Kato Rosa ("Unfair: The Movie", "Smile - Seiya No Kiseki" and "Detroit Metal City") as uptight Anzai Hiroko, Yukiko's co-worker who hides her beauty behind frumpy clothes and glasses and Kaname Jun ("K-20", "Wild 7", "Goemon", "Casshern") as darkly handsome Imai Tetsuo, Seiko's arrogant workplace rival and colleague. Kaname really does a terrific job of making Imai the total douche-bag we liked to hate.
Osamu Mukai ("Paradise Kiss", "Honey and Clover"), Kamiji Yusuke ("Rookies", "Crows Zero", "Drop") and Hayashi Kento ("Aku No Kyoten", "Kôshônin: The Movie") play the various love interests for the girls but they have very little to do aside from look cute and act as emotional support.
One could perhaps discount "Girl" as just a Japanese clone of "Sex and he City" as the similarities between the two are pretty close but I wouldn't say that "Girl" is that bad of a film. "Girl" has a definite "female empowerment" message that speaks to its target audience of which I, as a nonchalant, average, straight guy, am definitely not. Women will probably have more insight into this film than I can and may even find it relevant, touching and sentimental in a way that I can't.
The film ends with a lot of unanswered questions - Will Sota and Yukiko finally take the plunge and marry? What does the future hold for Seiko and Hiroki? Will Yoko win the heart of Shintaro? Can Takako continue to be both a mother and father to her young son? I guess we will have to wait and find out in the eventual sequel.
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