Film Review: Kimi ni Todoke / From Me to You (2010)
Blue Skies and Cherry Blossoms: Miura’s Spring Awakenings
by Ender’s Girl
Kimi ni Todoke: Nice and Over Easy… (But Too Easy?)
Tabe Mikako, Miura Haruma, Renbutsu Mikako, Netsuna, Arata, Katsumura Masanobu
Directed by Kumazawa Naoto / NTV and Toho, 2010
In a Nutshell:
The last four decent students at West High attempt to draw out the class loner from her antisocial shell. Friendship, self-confidence and love bloom under the cherry trees!!!
(SpoilLert: Yep, there’s quite a few!)
If Koizora was the Ultimate Makjang Fantasy, then Kimi ni Todoke (From Me to You, lit. Reaching You) would be the Ultimate Shoujo Fantasy – not that this makes it a bad thing, not at all. I’ll take the most jejune of shoujo fiction over the obscene little sideshow that was Koizora any fureaking day of the year, thank you very much.
When this much-awaited live-action adaptation of the popular manga hit theaters in 2010, Miura Haruma could not have chosen a better post-Koizora palate-cleanser for fans clamoring to see him in another romantic-lead role – although this time, his character was a complete about-face from his soulful-cad-secretly-dying-of-
too-much-hair-bleach-cancer in Koizora. If his Koizora character, Hiro, was the boy you loved to hate, then his Kazehaya Shota in Kimi ni Todoke was that boy in school, Mr. Perfect, the Golden Boy himself. (And forgive my inner geek-dork, but at this point I’m tempted to add that bit from the Voltron series opener: “…loved by good, feared by evil!” That’s Kazehaya-kun for you! lol) So I don’t see why fans of the original manga would ever object to Miura essaying the role of Kazehaya-kun; judging from the character’s description, the decision to cast the Most Agreeable-Looking Idoru Under 30 was right on the money.
[Sidebar: It’s quite interesting how Miura so convincingly embodies both the Ultimate Shounen Hero (in the Bloody Mondays) and the Ultimate Shoujo Heartthrob (Kimi ni Todoke). Could his idealized good looks and wholesome, sincere vibe have anything to do with it? Still, points for unisex appeal. *ka-ching!* ]
And it isn’t just Miura that’s easy on the eye in this movie. Props to the filmmakers for putting together such a visually charming package, from the pleasantly subdued palette of muted tans and neutrals to the solid, steady camera frames. I especially loved the high-angle shots of Kazehaya (Miura) and Sawako (Tabe Mikako) at the zebra crossing, both looking up at the cherry tree, with the white painted lines on the asphalt road a lovely contrast to the delicate snowy pink of the sakura petals above them. Very nicely styled.
That said, it’s the plot of Kimi ni Todoke that I’m not too crazy about. Don’t get me wrong – as far as teenybopper romances go, this one’s a smooth and pleasant ride. But is it a tad too smooth and pleasant? If Koizora portrayed Puppy Love at its most rabidly homicidal (as I said in my Koizora review), then this film seems to show Puppy Love at its most… spayed and neutered, lol.
For one, the major “conflicts” that buttress Kimi ni Todoke aren’t so much real conflicts as juvenile misunderstandings hyperbolized for effect. Such “conflicts,” which may have worked well in the source manga and the anime adaptation, simply don’t translate well to film: They fail to pass cinematic muster, being too trivial to hold up in the more expansive, drama-charged narrative of a mainstream movie, but still too contrived even for a quieter, slice-of-life kind of film. The so-called conflicts also cut up the movie into shorter episodes (each dealing with its own “conflict”), but this treatment falls short of bringing the film into cohesion. A far more suitable medium would’ve been television, and with Kimi ni Todoke as a ten-episode Jdorama. (Now WHY didn’t Miura just do a Kimi ni Todoke renzoku instead of that 2011 classroom morality play he eventually wound up in? ‘Twould’ve been more age-appropriate, too.)
Conflict-not-a-conflict # 1: Weird girl likes cute boy… but does he like her back???
I can see why the Kimi ni Todoke source material was a resounding hit with female readers, especially teens – I mean come on, what girl wouldn’t want the cutest, most popular boy in school to be secretly in love with her all along? Such is the scenario on which the film is premised: High school heartthrob tries his darnedest – though not always successfully – to reach out (*ka-ching!* there’s the title for you!) to the class misfit. Which really shouldn’t be much of a challenge… except that said misfit happens to be the most ill-discerning, socially maladroit human being in Japan!!! (*ka-ching!* there’s conflict for you!)
I normally don’t mind these opposites-attract, “handsome & popular guy falls for self-esteem-challenged weirdo” (or, in The Breakfast Club terminology, “Prince falls for Basket Case”) kinds of tropes. But it all felt too… I dunno, easy-peasy. It turns out that Kazehaya-kun has liked our heroine, Sawako, from Day 1 – now where’s the challenge in that?
Take their initial meeting on the first day of school, when Sawako spots this new boy in their West High uniform standing at a crossroads and puzzling over directions in his hand. She diffidently points him in the right way, and he walks up to her, smiling warmly in relief – but uh-oh, red flag moment here – his gaze lingers a few beats too long on her bashful little face while the camera lingers a few beats too long on the two of them standing on the zebra crossing – just in case it hasn’t occurred to viewers by now that they! are! the! OTP!
And to driiiive home the point for the rest of us, the boy plucks a stray sakura petal from Sawako’s hair – and it’s perfectly heart-shaped!!! what could this mean, pray tell??!?!? – and they engage in more meaningful eye-locking before he spots his homies down the street. OH COME ONE. Seriously??? A heart-shaped petal??? The entire money shot is pretty, yes, poetic, yes, but how believable is it? Not bloody much. In fact, not bloody at all.
This First Meeting scene, whose significance in both setting the tone of the film and in hooking the viewers’ interest I need not underscore, could have been great – had it been handled with less of the staginess and blatant manipulation. Clearly, the encounter was designed more for viewer fanservice than anything else. Who stands in the middle of the effin’ road staring moony-eyed at someone they’ve just met – for a full minute??? And with those (heavy-handedly) auspicious heart-shaped petals swirling around them??? You’d just as soon expect the heavens to burst open, discharging choirs of cherubim, or, in the same grand manner, for a sword wedged in a block of granite to magically appear before them with a mighty poof! *rolleyes*
I don’t like my OTPs to be railroaded into OTP-ness before the ten-minute mark, goshdarnit. I want their relationship to grow on me – organically please, without the director and editor screaming into my ears, “Look at those two, ne?!!?! *poke, poke* Look at how they can’t keep their eyes off each other, ne?!?!! *nudge, nudge* Notice the byoootiful metaphor of the kokoro-shaped petal, ne?!?!! *prod, prod* This means looove, ne?!?!!” – Please. I would’ve had a much easier time getting into the moment if Kazehaya had simply… thanked Sawako with a quick smile before heading down the road. Maybe he would’ve spared her a second glance over his shoulder, briefly taking in her bowed head and thick curtain of hair – but out of curiosity or mild interest, and nothing more. She shouldn’t matter to him at this point. Not yet. (I’ll pretend the silly heart petals never happened.)
I know there’s no point in trying to rewrite the bloody script, but I just wanted to get that little revisionist moment off my chest. And besides, even if (in a perfect world, ha!) we had gone with my version, it still would’ve fit neatly with what happens next in the chronological order of the plot, which is only revealed in flashback later in the film: Kazehaya having joined his friends down the road turns and takes one long look at Sawako, and it’s the exact moment that she’s smiling at the cherry tree. It still shouldn’t be love at first sight for Kazehaya, but now he’d be able to gaze more openly – and thoughtfully – at Sawako while feeling the stirrings of attraction towards the strange, shy girl with the incongruously disarming smile.
What follows in the film is a montage of school vignettes of Sawako crushing on Kazehaya from afar while he gets fawned over by their classmates for being – oh, perfect: She waters the campus flowerbeds, surreptitiously watching Kazehaya play football in the adjacent field… She tinkers with her chemistry lab experiment, peeking through the tripod legs at Kazehaya as he jokes around with a table of admirers – and I LIKE how his eyes ever so briefly flicker in her direction – squee! – before he turns his attention back to his posse… (I would’ve appreciated more of these subtle clues that convince you that the odd loner girl shunned by the whole class has indeed caught the resident heartthrob’s fancy.)
Other vignettes, this time from Kazehaya-kun’s POV: He walks past the cafeteria window and notices Sawako sorting out bottles for recycling… He engages in small talk with his chums but he’s really watching her tidy up the hallway, mop and pail in hand. And she obviously never notices him noticing her – which is the whole point of the story anyway, for about 4/5 of the film. And like I said, this formula had great potential to succeed had the execution been better, if only the director had let the tension between Sawako and Kazehaya build naturally and unhurriedly instead of dishing it too much, too soon. Let it simmer, let it grow… make them WANT it, dammit! (And make ME want it, too!)
And when I speak of wanting my unresolved sexual tension (UST), I don’t mean the “Argh, I can’t stand being around you in class, ‘coz all I REALLY wanna do, is EAT you… *sparkles* …nomnomnom” variety, but the kind that is predicated on Kazehaya’s growing awareness of Sawako and her seeming disinterest in making friends with anyone in their class – including him, and in spite of his repeated attempts to – *ka-ching!* – reach out to her. Rather than Kazehaya expressing frank admiration for Sawako from the get-go, I would’ve wanted a more nuanced development of their relationship – marked perhaps by a friendly smile in the hallway, or a casual greeting before the bell. Adding texture to their dynamic would be Kazehaya’s puzzlement at Sawako’s mulish unsociability in stark contrast to her quiet helpfulness around school and thoughtfulness towards others – thus intriguing him further and stoking his attraction. Now… that’s the way aha-aha-I would’ve liked it.
Conflict-not-a-conflict # 2: Weird girl’s weirdness alienates her from classmates, who see her as a walking jinx!!!
Which brings us to the character of Kuronuma Sawako, named “pleasant child” by her family but dubbed “Sadako” since primary school for her perceived resemblance to the girl from The Ring. Though kind and helpful by nature, it’s her excruciating shyness and low self-esteem that keep her walled off from… civilization. Tabe Mikako adequately channels the emotional isolation of her character, although I wish she didn’t have to glare balefully at everyone ALL the time – as if the actress were trying too hard to play up the supposedly “scary” aspects of the character. (Maybe she got the scare tactics from The Ring and The Eye all mixed up, hyuk hyuk hyuk.)
Most of all, I don’t get what turned Sawako into this weird little zombie when she had such a happy and comfortable family life. I mean, it’s not like her dad (Katsumura Masanobu) was some abusive drunk or a neglectful absentee parent; he was just a regular chap who doted on his daughter. Plus, you can’t possibly find a mean bone in someone who: (a) played cymbals for a local orchestra; and (b) was Egami from Hero (lol. but really!!! It’s – EGAMI!!! hahaha Team Josai 4vr!!!! <3 <3 <3 ).
So with such well-adjusted and loving parents – why the personality disorder? Was it just because of the “Sadako” moniker – and that damaged her for life? Did those bullyboys from primary school crush her spirit forever, did they? Boo, not convincing at all. I mean, you were KIDS. GET OVER IT. Sawako’s present personality simply didn’t check out with her backstory. (This sort of inconsistency begs comparisons to Kotani Nobuta, Horikita Maki’s character in Nobuta wo Produce. At least Nobuta had to put up with a mother who was never there and a step-dad who coldly rejected her as a child.) Sorry, but there simply isn’t enough background angst in Sawako’s home life to sufficiently explain her sociopathic behavior.
In the same vein, I could NOT for the life of me grasp why this film makes such a big effin’ deal over how “scary” Sawako looks, and how the students are in constant freak-out mode over the “Don’t look into Sadako’s eyes or you’ll be CURSED!” urban legend/scuttlebutt – an unfunny running gag that wears thin right from the start. I mean… GHADZ. How DUMB are these kids, anyway? I’ve seen five-year-olds with more common sense. I’m not pooh-poohing bullying or peer exclusion here – because they’re valid realities in any school society, I get that. My beef is with Sawako’s classmates ostracizing her because they actually fear her and believe she has the ability to supernaturally hurt them, and not because she’s simply weird or different (as was the case in Nobuta wo Produce).
It’s bad enough that all the kids in school (except Kazehaya-kun, natch!) blow the “Sawako = Horror Girl” angle completely out of proportion, but for their homeroom teacher, Pin (Arata), an adult and a member of the freaking faculty, to readily buy into the BS – is really beyond silly. I don’t know if it’s bad acting, bad writing or bad directing (or all of the above), but the character didn’t even seem to be humoring his students’ superstitious fears in an ironic, tongue-in-cheek way (à la Catherine, the ball-busting vice-principal in Nobuta wo Produce) – he just seemed equally spooked by Sawako’s reputation. Which is – all together now – STOOPID. This, coupled with his unhealthy interest in the private affairs of his students, and that off-putting overgrown-kid-channeling-random-Jdorama-funnyman shtick, made Pin my least liked minor character in the story.
Conflict-not-a-conflict # 3: Weird girl makes new friends, but a misunderstanding gets in the way!!! And their reputations might suffer if they continue to be her friend!!!
Enter the Superfriends composed of Kazehaya-kun, his childhood tomodachi Ryu (Aoyama Haru) and Chizuru (Renbutsu Misako), and Chizuru’s BFF Ayane (Natsuna), who openly induct Sawako into their clique – evil classmates be damned! – and show her the kindness and acceptance she never experienced from her peers. It was a relief to find all four characters genuinely likable without being clichés; the actors also did a good job in bringing out their distinct personalities as well as the dynamics of their easy, omg-that’s-SO-high-school-in-a-good-way! camaraderie.
The slice-of-life scenes where the Superfriends hang out with Sawako – bonding over ramen, walking their bikes home, or teaching her the rudiments of football – captured the high school feeling really well, much like the after-school vignettes from the 2006 anime film The Girl Who Leapt Though Time. A nice bonus was the development of the Beta Couple’s own arc – Ryu and Chizuru are childhood pals, Ryu’s been in love with Chizuru since forever BUT she has the hots for his older bro… ohnoes! – which provided a more mature and realistic counterpoint to Kazehaya and Sawako’s nebulous non-relationship. (Too often I found myself wishing the movie had been about Ryu and Chizuru instead. By far the cooler and more riveting couple, sorry.)
But the “conflict” here is rather silly – really a non-issue, a case of miscommunication blown out of proportion and drawn out longer than it should. Sawako distances herself from Ayane+Chizuru and Kazehaya because nice, normal people like them shouldn’t be fraternizing with freaks like herself, or her unpopularity might rub off the two. *rolleyes* And it all gets resolved, in perfect accordance with Shoujo Canon, by a big confrontation scene in the girls’ restroom (gotta have at least one of those!), where Sawako stoutly defends Ayane and Chizuru against the school’s token Mean Girls (ah, token biyatches – gotta have those, too! lol).
This confrontation scene (conveniently) manages to achieve three things at once: Ayane and Chizuru’s reputations are restored, the salacious rumors about them debunked; the Mean Girls, humbled and moved by Sawako’s loyalty to her friends, experience a change of heart; and Ayane+Chizuru patch things up with Sawako, leading to a teary-eyed (but sweet) group hug on the rooftop (but – what’s this? – while Kazehaya’s beaming proudly at them from the ground – WTF? was this really necessary?). But all’s well that ends well in Shoujo Land, no matter how pat or manipulative the resolution. *rolleyes*
Conflict-not-a-conflict # 4: Weird girl’s frenemy schemes to steal cute boy from her!!!
Oh yes, there’s the token Frenemy too, a sneaky little vixen named Kurumi (who weirdly resembles a sluttier, over-accessorized Aragaki Yui – so I took to calling her “Evil Gakky” lol – made her scenes with Miura funnier too, in a wink-wink way). Kurumi tries (unsuccessfully) to supplant Sawako in Kazehaya-kun’s affections using sabotage and emotional blackmail. *yawn* Ayane and Chizuru (aka the Powerpuff Girls) soon suss out Evil Gakky’s game, but when they confront her about it before Sawako, the little soft-hearted (and soft-headed?) weirdo takes the high road and refuses to expose Evil Gakky’s schemes before Kazehaya-kun and the whole world, instead showing kindness! and mercy! *rolleyes* So they can ALL BE FRIENDS at the end of the day!!! Classic.
At this point I wondered if the Kimi ni Todoke storyboard was lifted straight from “The Little Survival Book of Shoujo Crisis Management” with the following chapter titles: This is how you get a guy to like you without really trying!!! This is how you handle class disputes!!! This is how you cope with peer rejection!!! This is how you defend your friends from gossipmongers!!! This is how you deal with evil bitch girls and bullies!!! And at all times, just remember to be yourself!!! (hahaha)
If this sort of treatment worked for starry-eyed fifteen-year-olds, all I can say is… I’m not fifteen anymore, lol. I now have little patience for movies that – very patronizingly, if I may add – gloss over the complexities of adolescent peer/self-image issues by purveying unrealistically simple, stop-gap remedies leading to feel-good conclusions. So that at the end of the day, the characters can pat each other on the back saying, “We’ve learned our lesson, all’s well again, move along now people!” But then again, let’s look at the bright side – AT LEAST Sawako didn’t get: (a) deflowered by her boyfriend; (b) raped by goons; (c) preggers; (d) dumped by a terminally ill boyfriend who didn’t want her to see him die; (e) all of the above. Hahahahahaha *drinks*
Conflict-not-a-conflict # 5: Cute boy finally confesses his true feelings, but weird girl is too scared to take the plunge!!!
Kazehaya and Sawako’s romantic moments (no matter how one-sided) aren’t exactly groundbreaking and they didn’t sweep me off my feet, but they’re sweet and cute enough – especially when Kazehaya-kun steps up his game (‘coz the girl just can’t take a hint! *rolleyes*). Take the night the whole class go on a Courage Hike (some kind of team-building activity Kazehaya organizes, but really an excuse to spend a little alone time with the girl he likes. Kazehaya-kuuun you sly one youuu!). He and Sawako find themselves alone on a forested hilltop, although she largely remains impervious to his little overtures that would undoubtedly have gotten noticed had they been directed at someone who could actually READ SOCIAL CUES, DUH.
In a later scene, Kazehaya sticks up for Sawako (very sweet of him, too) when their classmates set them up on a date as “punishment” for Kazehaya’s last-place finish at the Courage Hike (which was deliberate anyway – he stayed behind for Sawako). (And, um, it’s nice to see Kazehaya telling his classmates off without screaming death threats at them and then dragging Sawako to the library for a little… afternoon delight, hahaha. E.G. will you STOP it with these Koizora references??? hahaha)
Sawako’s naiveté mixed with her insecurities (i.e. “What can a guy like you ever see in a freak like me?” *scuffs ground with shoe* *shambles off to… go water the flowerbeds. or something*) only blind her to Kazehaya’s intentions and prevent their relationship from making ANY kind of headway. And sometimes it can be endearing – like that afternoon when Kazehaya starts to confess his feelings under the cherry tree but she stiffly cuts him off, adding how much she admires and respects him as a human being (lololol) – which ain’t exactly the most encouraging thing to hear if you’re laying your heart bare to the girl you like, teehee.
Other times, however, all that innocence and self-doubt will make you grate your teeth and do God-knows-what-else, and you’ll want very badly to go over and thwack Sawako on the head with enough force to shame a daytime Kdrama ahjumma. This is especially true watching Kazehaya’s Big Confession Scene – yes, the one where he scores two tickets (two!!! meaning it’s a DATE, silly Sawako!) to a Christmas Eve show at the planetarium (planetarium!!! meaning he’s just DYING to try all those star/angel/heaven pickup lines on you, silly Sawako!). But poor, poor Kazehaya-kun!!! Courting Sawako is like courting a two-year-old: you have to sit her down and patiently explaining such complex concepts as “boy”… “boyfriend”… “crush”… “love”… “special feelings”… and “date.” (For goodness’ sake, WHY couldn’t this girl just have been more NORMAL??? *bangs head on cherry tree trunk*)
And the Best Scene Evar of the whole movie? Let’s just say it’s the scene involving a near-empty (but not quite!) gymnasium, an orange cone marker, and one very, very jealous boy (teehee!!!). It’s also the one time during the film that actually got me of my seat screaming, “YEAH. BABY, YEAH!!!” *double fist-pump* *body-slam throw pillows* (lol) Though very brief, it’s intense, it’s charged, it’s hardcore! Saints alive, finally we get A MOMENT that shoots past the fuzzy cuteness of earlier moments and straight into CrazySexyLove territory. Oh yes, Kazehaya KAN!!! (lol)
But it doesn’t end there!!! The gym scene flows into this lovely intermezzo on the soccer field. (And he’s still kind of mad at this point – driven mad with jealousy all right, woohoo! – so all the better for everyone, woohoo!) And as for me, well… time also stopped during this scene, and I remember saying in equally slow measure
while wiping my drool off the remote: “Guhhh… hey Miura, why yo’ grip so tight? Guhhh… hey Miura, why yo’ hair so soft? Guhhh… hey Miura, why yo’ cheekbones so chiseled? Guhhh… hey Miura, why yo’ sparklin’ in tha sun?” (errr scratch that last one, lololol)
This movie being the quintessential shoujo romance, expect a climax that soundly delivers those moments of adolescent suspense (i.e. “Aieeee, will they or won’t they get together on Christmas Eve???”); heartwarming father speeches (with an especially poignant symmetry given the circumstances of Sawako’s birth; very nicely done); and lest we forget, that obligatory soupçon of sappiness – particularly when the Telltale Heart-shaped Sakura Petal makes a surprise appearance inside someone’s pocketbook one New Year’s Eve, lol. But overall a satisfactory ending, and one of the better-edited sequences of the film.
Ah, well, those were my issues with Kimi ni Todoke. True-blue manga fans far more steeped in shoujo canon than I will probably find my gripes negligible or plain unwarranted. For the record, I really, truly wanted to fall in love with the story and characters, but I also hoped to find that emotional heft underneath the feel-good fluff, something thematically deeper and more resonant than what was being served. So forgive my frustration at finding this movie a little too benign and – at times – juvenile and shallow for my liking. (If I set my expectations too high for Kimi ni Todoke, blame it on Nobuta wo Produce and its pitch-perfect depiction of adolescent life. Perhaps that show has spoiled me rotten, but it also made me realize that high school plots don’t always have to be all fuzzy frivolity *coughKimi ni Todokecough* or morally (and intellectually) bereft soap operas *barfKoizorabarf*, lol.)
Even the character of Kazehaya-kun, for all his choir-boy goodness, comes across as too idealized and blandly perfect to be real. I don’t mean to say that he HAD to be a pathologically messed-up prick in order to be interesting (*cough Hiro cough*), but I would have wanted a meatier portrayal of Kazehaya that went beyond the sunny smile and genial disposition – in other words, something that added texture and emotional traction to an otherwise two-dimensional vanilla character. Oh well. At least Miura’s performance in this movie didn’t make me want to down a whole carboy of peroxide or commit random acts of indecency in a school library, hahaha. So, points for improvement! You’ve come a long, long way, Miura my dahhling!!! Lulz
My criticism notwithstanding, Kimi ni Todoke is still for the most part a charming two-hour trip to Pleasantville – and for once, it’s nice to watch a teen romance that isn’t a train wreck. Anyway I’m probably just carping over nothing, because we all know that this movie could have turned out so, so, sooo much worse. Again, look at the bright side – at least no unborn babies, teenage uteri, or bottles of hair bleach were hurt in the making of this movie… which is MOAR! than I can say for *other* productions out there… (I’m looking at you, Koizora!!! I’m laughing at you, Koizora!!! HAH HAH HAH HAH)
Artistic & technical merit: B
Entertainment value: B-
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