I don’t do Sunday afternoons well. Have I ever mentioned that? “Long, Dark Tea-Time of the Soul” comes close to how hopelessly awful I feel every Sunday afternoon is by sheer dint of it being Sunday afternoon.
Sunday afternoons find me flipping aimlessly through websites, TV shows, social media, books and DVDs looking for something to draw my attention. Yesterday, for some reason, re-runs of Bulletproof Monk weren’t doing it for me (thanks for trying, Showtime) and there was no rugby to be had. When I used my magic powers to turn up some entertainment, what rose to the top of the pile was the 2008 remake of the live-action movie based on Yoshida Akimi’s manga Sakura no Sono, (which was reviewed here on Okazu by Yuri no Boke’s Katherine H in 2011.)
I hit “play” expecting to be unmoved. Well I couldn’t have been wronger. The movie is sort of a nod to the manga and to the 1990 movie, without letting them get in the way.
Yuki Momo (played by Fukuda Saki) is a concert violinist in training and she is clearly very good. But not good enough according to her teacher – and her attitude (which appears to be that she enjoys playing) has to be crushed immediately. So the teacher tells her she’s a failure and ought to just quit. So, Momo quits.
Momo’s older sister Anzu (who is getting married shortly, like Atsuko’s sister in the manga) and their parents pull strings to get Momo into Ouka Girl’s Academy, a stuffy old institution with ridiculous rules and traditions. Momo is less than enthused and starts to get a reputation immediately. She’s reluctantly shown around by class rep Akaboshi (Terashima Saki), who is apparently stuffy herself, but Momo can see that she’s crushing on the school prince, tall, athletic Ogasawara Aoi (Anne Watanabe.)
When Momo sneaks into the old schoolhouse (which is scheduled to be destroyed,) she comes across a script for a play version of Chekov’s “The Cherry Orchard” adapted by her teacher, Ms. Sakano. When she asks about it, Ms. Sakano says that it was never performed, and that the school will never let it be. Of course we find out why – a girl in the drama club became pregnant and killed herself. The play was banned, but the rest of the drama club went on strike and blocked themselves in a room in the school to get the school to let them perform the play. The head of the drama club at the time was Ms. Sakano, and Momo’s sister Anzu was in the club.
But now Momo finds herself in the role of director of the play, with a cast of schoolmates who want to try, at least. Aoi is taking the lead female role to embrace her feminine side. But when a girl in the club fears she’s become pregnant, she lies about going to the hospital to her father, instead telling him she was practicing for the play. He calls the school and the jig is up.
The Vice-Principal confronts Momo, banning the play and threatening any girl who performs with rejection from the junior college. Momo has a great line about the banning of the play having *nothing* to do with the play, and how the traditions of the school are more important than the students. The Vice-Principal counters with a good line of her own – that the school’s traditions are not created by the students and if they do not wish to follow the school rules, they are welcome to take the school uniform off and leave.
The play is forbidden by the Vice Principal, but the girls sneak together off campus to practice anyway. When Sakano-sensei discovers them, she becomes their coach and they decide they’ll perform it off campus. The scene where they all agree to do it anyway was great – each actress quoting lines from the play, partially out of context, but not entirely. The words were applicable, if not really meant that way.
Once again the school learns of the play and this time Ms. Sakano argues for the performance. The Vice-Principal agrees, but demands that it be performed on campus, at the school anniversary. We learn that she was the Drama Club advisor 11 years ago.
The movie comes to an end as the girls head off to perform The Cherry Orchard.
This movie was a massive modernization of the original story. The girls are thoroughly 21st century. The idea that Midori may be pregnant is not shocking, but worrying. Momo does not have a boyfriend, but in the first scene, she plays after a young man on violin at the trial, and later meets him playing sax on the street. He says he’s given up violin because he never could be as good as her. He keeps in touch with her and invites her to see his band. This was a great scene, as she helps him with his song and the singer, Rimi (played by Ueto Aya) gives her a thumbs up. She gets some positive reinforcement and later Shu asks her to join the band – and him – in Tokyo. Momo thanks him but says no. She’s decided to graduate from Ouka, and then decide what she’ll do with herself. I loved how this scene held no pressure for Momo, nor promise of a dream, just a possibility she was at leisure to pursue.
Yuri? Yes. When Anzu brings Momo to the school, Anzu sees Sakano-sensei and runs up to her, immediately casting herself in the position of underclassman with a huge crush. It was a nice bit of acting. Later, in a somewhat less well-acted bit, Anzu tells Momo that her feelings were love. “I would have left school for her.” But it was never to be. When Anzu comes to the school for the play, she and Kayo have a moment in the old school building, where they talk about the past. The scene really stood out as it was played by the both of them as if they were on a stage. Each step was scripted for the audience – not natural at all. Then the girls all come in, bouncy energy and natural motion, and the moment is gone. It was touches like that that really made the movie work for me.
In the final moments before the end of the movie, Aoi discovers Akaboshi, nervous, alone, and withdrawing. Aoi reaches out and draws her into a gentle embrace. “A charm to relax you,” she says, and Akaboshi holds her and relaxes. Momo sees this, smiling gently for them and only interrupts when she is forced to by the others approaching.
There is one final gag, which was ridiculous, but it helped the movie end on a non-allegorical note, which I appreciated. ^_^
Story – 8
Characters – 9
Yuri – 3
Service – 1 on principle
Cinematography – 7 No lingering fetishy shots of landscape, sakura as symbol or fleeting maidenhood or any other gag-making allegory. Clear, clean shots that complimented the generally excellent acting.
Overall – 9
As I said, I had no expectations from this movie – if anything, I expected it to be kind of sucky, but I enjoyed every moment of it. It made my Sunday afternoon fly by!