2010, colour, 1.85, 128 mins
Directed by Doi Nobuhiro (土井裕泰)
By Derek Elley
Fri, 12 November 2010, 23:51 PM (HKT)
Smoothly packaged but weakly written melodrama based on a popular song. Film weeks.
Hokkaido, Doto region, Japan, 1996. On the day of her driving test, high-school student Hirasawa Sae (Aragaki Yui) - born in Nova Scotia, Canada, but raised in a small fishing village in Japan - meets fisherman's son Kiuchi Kohei (Ikuta Toma) when the two "borrow" a van to make her appointment in Kushiro in time. When the van crashes, Kohei is expelled from his high school and goes to work with his father Ken (Matsushige Yutaka) and his college friends; Sae loses her chance to attend Tokyo's Waseda University to study English. After a spell in a crammer paid for by her hard-working widowed mother Ryoko (Yakushimaru Hiroko), Sae eventually gains entrance to Waseda, where she gets to know photo-journalist Kitami Junichi (Mukai Osamu). Meanwhile, Kohei is feeling abandoned back in Hokkaido and also is aware that his father has financial problems due to the fishing co-op's gradual decline. He journeys south to Tokyo to see Sae one Christmas, and the pair renew their feelings for each other. However, as time goes on, Sae finds it impossible to find a job in Tokyo, and considers moving to New York, where Junichi is now based. Then, in Hokkaido, tragedy suddenly strikes Kohei's family.
Films inspired by songs owe nothing to the quality of the song and everything to the imagination of the scriptwriter, and unfortunately it's the screenplay by TV veteran YOSHIDA Noriko 吉田紀子 that is the weakest element in Hanamizuki ハナミズキ (2010). The movie's sizable success in Japan this summer was largely due to the huge popularity of HITOTO Yo 一青窈's 2004 song (a karaoke evergreen, heard in full over the film's end titles), the teaming of two young "idols" — actress-model-singer ARAGAKI Yui 新垣結衣 with singer-TV actor IKUTA Toma 生田斗真 — and blanket marketing prior to its release. None of these mean much outside Japan, and Yoshida's script, faced with little to go on in the song's lyrics (basically about eternal love and the dogwood tree), is to foreign eyes only a workmanlike story better suited to afternoon TV.
The initial set-up — Canadian-born girl with ambitions meets Hokkaido fisherman's son with none — seems interesting and, though strictly formulaic, proceeds okay for the first hour with smooth but anonymous direction by DOI Nobuhiro 土井裕泰 (Be With You いま、会いにゆきます (2004)), who largely works in TV. But there's not much chemistry or passion generated between the two leads to sustain the longer second hour, and deeper elements like the girl being attracted to another man (played by MUKAI Osamu 向井理) who looks like her long-dead father aren't explored at all. Ikuta has a more strongly defined character than Aragaki but is not especially believable — with his pretty, Daniel WU 吳彥祖-like looks — as a fisherman's son. The best performance comes from singer-actress YAKUSHIMARU Hiroko 薬師丸ひろ子 as the heroine's offbeat mother, who encourages her daughter to get as much experience with men as possible before settling down with her true love.
ContactSales: TBS, Tokyo (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Theatrical release: Japan, 21 Aug 2010.
Presented by Hanamizuki Production Committee (JP). Produced by TBS Pictures (JP). Executive producers: Yagi Yasuo, Hamana Kazuya. Producers: Nasuda Jun, Shindo Junichi.
Script: Yoshida Noriko. Original song: Hitoto Yo (2004). Photography: Sasakibara Yasushi. Editing: Hogaki Junnosuke. Music: Haketa Takefumi. Art direction: Heya Kyoko. Sound: Onodera Osamu.
Cast: Aragaki Yui (Hirasawa Sae), Ikuta Toma (Kiuchi Kohei), Renbutsu Misako (Watanabe Ritsuko), Matsushige Yutaka (Kiuchi Ken, Kohei's father), Iura Arata (Hirasawa Kiyokazu, Sae's father), Kimura Yuichi (Uncle Masato), Mukai Osamu (Kitami Junichi), Yakushimaru Hiroko (Hirasawa Ryoko, Sae's mother), Tokunaga Eri (Minami, Sae's school friend), Kanai Yuta, Koyanagi Yu, Takahashi Tsutomu (Kohei's friends), Hayashi Manatsu (young Sae), Mizushima Kaori.