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I'm a sucker for love stories! And there are so many Japanese love stories to really get into the mood. In Part 2 of our 30 Favorite Japanese movies, we're listing down 6 of our favorite Japanese love stories. No need for vampires or werewolves, just some pair of lovestruck high school students or a female cyborg will do.
The thing with Japanese movies is that you get caught up by the magic of its music. You may not be familiar with the lyrics and it may feel alien to you, but it still pulls your heart strings and you're suddenly transported into another world. When stories can move you emotionally, and that you're rooting for the lovers to succeed, then you're hooked. While TV dramas do that, a full length feature film can do better, because you get into the journey for the full two hours or so and you get to savor the magic for those 2 full hours - no need to wait for the commercial break to finish or wait for the next episode. Everything is there for the taking.
Our list right after the jump!
Cyborg She (Boku no Kanojo wa Saibogu) - 2008
J Maruyama wrote an amazing article/review that is more or less a homage to the awesomeness of the movie entitled Cyborg She. I was at first skeptical that this movie would move me, much less convince me to spend my time watching it. Says Maruyama:
What if James Cameron's Terminator was a love story? Sounds ludicrous but that's exactly what Kwak Jae-Young's Cyborg She is - a love story between a high-tech cyborg from the future (Ayase Haruka) and her inventor boyfriend Kitamura Jiro (Koide Keisuke).
In the year 2070, a kindly, frail and physically handicapped Jiro built a female cyborg (in an homage to Terminator, the cyborg is a "Cyberdyne Model 103") as a personal aide to assist him in his daily life. Equipped with a time travel device, Jiro sends the cyborg back to 2007 in an attempt to prevent the incident that crippled him (a mentally unstable office worker shot him in a restaurant shootout). Fulifilling her duty, the cyborg meets up with the younger Jiro and successfully saves him from the gunman.
Cyborg She is directed by Korean director Kwak Jae-Young who many may recognize from his popular 2001 hit My Sassy Girl. Kwak's inventive humor and storytelling is again much in evidence here and he delivers a satisfying and entertaining movie. While some of the comedy may border on the silly, I found myself laughing at the visual gags. The film borrows liberally from other sci-fi films, notably Terminator and A.I., but crafts an interesting time-jumping, century-spanning love story that is quite effective and endearing. [ read more ]
More Critical Buzz: Now this is a Japanese film so expect a touch of certain thought-provoking themes such as heart and soul. The Cyborg herself is a learning computer and in time, it will develop its human characteristics. Just what makes a human? Is it the way we were born or the way we live and experience life. According to Kwak, our actions and experiences are what makes us human; the question is: Is it because of mere programming or is does a machine develop a soul? Besides this, "Cyborg She" establishes its own science in the laws of time travel. It may become a bit difficult to follow as the story unravels but not to worry, Kwak manages to explain everything and puts it all together in the end. This thematic film successfully sidesteps the clichés of romantic comedies and manages to give the viewer quite a few surprises. Sure, it borrows from movies such as "Ghost In the Shell", "A.I." and "The Terminator" but the storytelling is solid enough that I was quite pleased with its execution.
The visual effects are also quite impressive. I loved the scenes of the earthquake set to destroy Tokyo. You can literally feel the city breaking apart and the scenes were able to express the fear and the loss after such a disaster. The scenes whenever the Cyborg utilizes her superhuman abilities are also top notch. The film has mild displays of violence and blood but none so graphic that may turn off mainstream watchers. The time travel effects resemble those seen in Hollywood movies made of similar nature. [ read more ]
Our Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Koizora (Sky of Love) - 2007
Fangirls love Koizora not only because it stars Haruma Miura but because of the story. While you may laugh at me and accuse me of being so much caught up with all the romance, but then again, have you been in love?
What the Movie is all about: High school student Mika (Yui Aragaki) has yet to encounter true love. One day, she runs meets Hiro (Haruma Miura), a rebellious young man with white hair, during class break, but is of put off by his unusual demeanor. Mika then loses her cellphone only to find it again with all her contacts deleted. Then a mysterious person calls her daily, leaving memorable remarks for her. Mika becomes interested in this mysterious person. Finally, the person on the other end of the phone asks to meet Mika in person.
The next day, Mika is shocked to learn the person calling her is Hiro. They soon become a couple despite their differences. Mika then becomes the target of a horrific act, when Hiro's ex-girlfriend hires three guys to rape Mika. The tragedy serves to only strengthen Mika and Hiro's relationship. A few months later, Mika becomes pregnant with Hiro's baby and the couple ask their parents to accept their marriage. Tragedy again strikes when Mika has a miscarriage.
The next semester, Hiro, inexplicably, gives the cold shoulder to Mika. Mika even finds Hiro kissing another girl at a house party which she only learned about through a third party. When Mika confronts Hiro about his recent behavior, Hiro tells her that he wants to break up. Mika, completely devastated, shuts herself off from others until she meets sweet natured Yu Fukuhara (Keisuke Koide). Mika slowly opens up to Yu as they become closer. Mika then uncovers a shocking secret about her first boyfriend Hiro.
Our Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
I Give my First Love to You - 2009
What the Movie is all about: Takuma, a boy who is told he will die before he's 20, and Mayu, a girl who is in love with him... The story begins when they are little kids. Mayu, whose father is a doctor, meets Takuma, who is hospitalized in her father's workplace. They develop feelings for each other, but Mayu learns of Takuma's grave illness and that he will die before he turns 20. The distraught children make one promise for an uncertain future. Time passes, and the girl becomes a young woman, and the boy, a young man. Mayu continues to support and love Takuma. On the other hand, Takuma, who knows his days are numbered, pushes away his feelings for Mayu and distances himself from her. He cannot stand to see her cry or hurt her more than he already has. Then Mayu meets another man who has feelings for her, and Takuma meets a woman who has the same illness, and their feelings for each other begin to waver. Misunderstandings, unsaid thoughts, the frustrations and chagrin of youth... What will become of their love while the clock keeps ticking away in Takuma's life?
Our Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Norwegian Wood - 2011
Most of the reviews I've read about Norwegian Wood took note of the complexity of the novel and how much is missing from the film version. But then again, when was the time a movie adaptation ever lived up to the expectation of those who've read the novel? I find the movie quite breathtaking - the different moods, the use of light and shades, the youthful and erotic nature of the actors' bodies. It is about young love afterall.... It's a visual feast of the highest level and the emotional impact it brings to its audience is undeniable. Vietnamese-French director Tran Anh Hung made a delicate, passionate, sensual and beautiful film about young love and loss and it suceeded in all its aspects. [ read our review here]
Our Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Hanamizuki (May your Love Bloom a Hundred Years) - 2010
Toma Ikuta finally made it here. Gone is the over-acting and what you see here from the actor is the realization that he can emote so effortlessly. His acting is matched by his co-star Yui Aragaki who did some English dialogue - while not fluent, she was dignified in deliving her lines. Osamu Mukai played a supporting but notable role as Aragaki's second love.
What the Movie is all about: Sae (Yui Aragaki) is a high school student who is studying hard for her college entrance exams. She lost her father when she was very young and so lives her mother Ryoko (Hiroko Yakushimaru) in Hokkaido, Japan. Her father Kemimichi (Arata) once planted a dogwood tree in their garden after he found out he had a terminal disease and could not watch Sae grow up. She hopes to enter a university in Tokyo.
She then meets Kouhei (Toma Ikuta), who attends a specialized high school teaching fishery. He hopes to follow in the footsteps of his father and grandfather as a fisherman. These two young people meet and have a long distance relationship. Although their love is strong it does not last.
10 years later these two people have a miracle ...
Our Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Thread of Destiny (Akai Ito) - 2008
Junpei Mizobata made this film worth the effort. He was relentless and so much the leading man here. If you're used to see him play supporting roles, then you'll be amazed at what he can do playing the lead role. Incidentally, he won as Rookie of the Year during the 33rd Japan Academy Awards for this movie.
What the Movie is all about: Mei has been in love with Yuya all her life. They've grown up together. But when they reach their second year of middle school, Yuya suddenly professes his love for her older sister, Haruna.
Struggling to rebound from her decade-long crush, Mei finds comfort in the close camaraderie of her school friends, Taka, Mia, Yuri, Natsu, Mitsu and Sara and then meets a reticent and gentle-natured boy named Atsushi. The two begin to realize that they share many things in common that seem to transcend mere coincidence: the same birthday (February 29th, 1992) and a previous encounter when they were both 8. Feeling a bond of fate, they grow closer.
But destiny can have a dark side to it, too, and a shocking revelation from both of their pasts compels Atsushi to pull away from Mei. The devastating separation then unleashes a wave of misfortune upon Mei: the death of a loved one, drug addiction and domestic violence. As circumstances seek to take control of her life, Mei struggles to maintain her faith in the tenuous thread of destiny that will reunite her with her true love.
Our Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Have you seen the list of movies above? What are your favorites? Any love stories you would also recommend? Let us know what you think!
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