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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Review of Seinaru Kaibutsutachi Ep 2

With more and more people jumping into this scam, will it lead to a situation at the end where Shiba finds himself to be the only one clueless about the entire fiasco? I'm starting to think that this might be very likely especially as more and more people get pulled in partly out of pity for Keiko's inability to bear her own child but also for their personal agendas.

Again, spoiler alert here! Please do not read the following if you wish to watch this episode first and do not want to know what has happened.

Frankly speaking, episode 2 wasn't as exciting as I would have liked it because the side story about Shiba taking pains to treat a potential appendix cancer patient was kinda longwinded. I could see where it was going especially since the only purpose it served seemed to be emphasizing how devoted he was to making sure every patient gets the best treatment from him. However, the lofty aspirations Shiba has might make it even more difficult to accept the web of deceit around him since he trusts everyone so much. In his monologue at the end of the episode, he keeps repeating the line that a woman has many faces. The biggest surprise for him would definitely be knowing how much Kasugai did in order to make it possible for Keiko to have a child born by a surrogate mother.

As for the main story, the new "participants" to the scam are Toshio and Mie. They are two key players in the whole scam because without the sperm from Toshio and Mie's uterus, Keiko can't do anything. Even though Toshio was reluctant to agree to this idea from the start, Kasugai knew very well that he was scared to fall from grace in case this surrogate pregnancy became known to the public. As a result, Kasugai promised to take the blame if things go wrong and even stressed that she found the perfect "environment" for everything to go smoothly without any detection. This could have meant Mie because she is someone without kin in this world (no one would question why she suddenly became pregnant or even stand up for her if things go wrong) and her deep admiration for Keiko makes it almost impossible for her to betray the latter. However, it looks likely that Mie might not really react as per what these people are thinking. As Mie grows more attached to the baby she's carrying and there are some hints that she has something going on for Toshio, she will be a potential cause of trouble if she doesn't follow what they want her to do. From the next episode's trailer, we can already see that Mie seems kinda reluctant to sign the papers asking her to give up parentage rights to the baby. It will only be a matter of time before she starts to show some signs of defiance or straying from the arranged path.

Frankly speaking, I was wondering why Kasugai wouldn't be able or wouldn't want to bear Keiko's child personally before I watched this episode. Now it all makes sense because Kasugai herself had an abortion so she had her uterus removed. And she knows the pain of not being able to have your own child so she was spurred to help Keiko. The next questions are, who was the father of that child, why did she give up that child and what reason made her steer clear of relationships after that? We'll probably know the answer at a later stage and I hope that the scriptwriter doesn't forget about answering them.

As things progress, you can get the obsession levels going up for some people. Keiko seems to have lost it at times when you see her fussing over Mie and asking to hear her tummy even though the pregnancy hasn't been certified. Wait till she gets more crazy when the pregnancy progresses to a later stage. Kasugai's constant goading of Toshio to get involved also shows how invested she is in the entire thing. It isn't about Keiko anymore, it also has to do her personal goal of having someone related by blood to herself.

On Shiba's side, his budding relationship with Hirai looks set to be another source of disappointment for him in time to come. Hirai's attempts at seducing him seem as if she was ordered to do so for the sake of something but I don't think Shiba did sleep with her YET. Maybe later or maybe not after all. And Hirai's act of receiving money from patients seem to be driven by her boyfriend or someone who is romantically linked to her extorting money from her so it remains to be seen if this lack of money will drive her to desperation and join Keiko & Co.

On the whole, episode 2's main purpose is to set the key players into position so the next episode looks set to be one which pulls in more bit players, throws up more questions into the air about the integrity of some characters or even shows a couple of conflicts here and there for people who are already involved.

Just to digress a bit, doesn't Okada Masaki look a bit like the younger version of Kashiwabara Takashi from certain angles? I didn't use to think of him this way but this episode made me draw the link for the first time. Not that it matters or affects me in any way though but just amused at how people who didn't look alike in the same now seem similar in one way or another.

Till the next episode then!

Monday, January 30, 2012

Review of Shokuzai Ep 1

WOWOW dramas never fail to amaze me (well, most of the time I would say). The selection of material and actors are what you normally won't see from TV networks such as FujiTV, TBS, NTV or TV Asahi. People hogging the lead roles on the basis of their popularity rather than acting skills are rare here and you are always treated to a visual feast of very exceptional actors in leading and supporting roles. NHK has been churning out very high quality shows as well in recent years but WOWOW has an advantage in challenging very controversial themes since they are not burdened by the tag of national broadcaster.

What attracted me to this drama were two main reasons: the story and Koizumi Kyoko.

The story is based on a novel by Minato Kanae which is written in the same way i.e. different lead characters each time being the narrator just like Kokuhaku, another of her hit novel which was made into a movie starring Matsu Takako. Starting from 15 years ago, we are introduced to this little girl Adachi Emiri who moved to a suburb town due to her father's transfer and becomes close friends with four of her classmates namely Sae, Maki, Akiko and Yuka. One day while playing in school, a male stranger approaches the group and asks for someone to accompany him to the stadium to carry out some works there. He selects Emiri from the group and she follows him alone despite her friends volunteering to come along. However, Emiri is killed that evening and the four girls discover her lifeless body in the stadium.

Being the only people who have seen the suspect, the girls cannot recall how the man look like and thus the police make no headway in finding the murderer. One day, Emiri's mother Asako invites the girls to her place on the pretext of celebrating Emiri's birthday and berates the girls for being useless thus causing the police to be unable to find the killer. She demands that the four of them make amends to Emiri in return and makes them promise to do that in their own ways.

As there are only 5 episodes in this drama, the first four will be centered on the lives of these four girls 15 years later i.e. present day. The trauma of Emiri's murder plus the haunting promise they made to Asako creates a tragic spiral of events for each of them as Asako continues to hunt for her daughter's killer.

We begin episode 1 with Sae's story. At the time when the girls found the body, Sae was tasked with staying behind in the stadium to keep watch on Emiri's body. It could be due to this that she seems to be really edgy around men and keeps a distance from them. One day, she is introduced to an eligible bachelor Otsuki Takahiro who decides to accept her for what she is but it turns out that there is more than meets the eye...

I won't go into the details of what exactly is wrong with Takahiro or what happens to Sae at the end because that will spoil the fun of watching. What I can say is that, there is some violence although not explicit and it can be really uncomfortable when it is revealed how Takahiro is really like and how Sae chooses to go along with his requests. Do not be surprised when you see that the colour balance on your screen seems to be less vibrant than usual. It seems to be a deliberate attempt to show the darkness of the theme and how the lives of the leads are like i.e. Sae being constantly in fear, Takahiro having a secret that he can reveal to Sae only and Asako still being consumed by the fury over being unable to catch her daughter's killer. Even the wedding scene seemed very much like a funeral to me with its dark colour mix.

Koizumi Kyoko is great as Asako especially when she appeared as a fashionable and happy mother in the beginning but changed to looking more like a black widow after Emiri's death. It was terrifying to see how she behaved so menacingly in front of the girls as if she wants them to pay the price of her daughter's untimely death. I'm getting the idea that Emiri's death is not coincidental after all since the killer chose Emiri to go with him. It will be worth checking out how Koizumi will potray Asako as the truth is revealed.

Aoi Yu plays Sae and I have to say that she's perfect for the role. Other than the fact that Aoi usually plays those gentle and quiet girls on screen, I think she managed to capture Sae's insecurity and how she grasped at the chance to get out of her current situation and continuing to bear with things even when it was clear that her happiness is just a front for others to see. Her last encounter with Asako as she leaves her apartment in the morning shows a lot of Sae's desperation as she asks Asako if what she has done is enough to make it up to Emiri.

A pleasant surprise would be to see Moriyama Mirai in the role of Takahiro. My impression of him so far has usually been confined to more comical or cheerful types of roles but he totally changed my opinion of him through this single episode. I don't know if he deliberately lost weight for this drama but he looked really gaunt and a bit creepy even though he's supposed to play a high-flying executive who seems to have it all. When you finish watching this episode, you will then realise why this is so. I think he and Aoi had really great chemistry as a couple in this drama (not in the romantic sense though) and it was truly amazing to see how they could handle such complicated characters so well.

One word of caution, if you are looking for fast-moving action, you might be very disappointed. Most of the story developments take their time and there are some scenes where there isn't much dialogue to convey how the characters are feeling. Coupled with the dull colour scheme, there would probably be people who doze off while watching this but I think the storyline and great acting is worth checking out even though I also had the temptation to press the fast-forward button at times.

I'm really looking forward to seeing the rest of the series and finding out the truth to Emiri's death which promises to be a rollercoaster ride for everyone especially Asako. Next episode features Koike Eiko as a teacher and I wonder how her character is affected by Emiri's murder?

Nakai Masahiro to star in TBS spring drama "ATARU"

SMAP's leader Nakai Masahiro will star in TBS spring drama "ATARU" to be shown at 9pm on Sundays starting from April 2012. This is his first drama in 3 years since his last appearance in FujiTV's "Konkatsu!" in April 2009.

Nakai will play an autistic man named Ataru who also has the Savant Syndrome (autistic people who have special talents in specific areas) which allows him to solve difficult cases using his memory and reasoning powers. As the story progresses, Ataru's tragic past and why he chooses to challenge such criminal cases will be revealed.

Joining Nakai in this drama will be Kitamura Kazuki who plays the police detective working with Ataru to solve the cases and Kuriyama Chiaki whose character helps Ataru during the process.

Source: Sanspo

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Review of Seinaru Kaibutsutachi Ep 1

There are two main reasons why this offering from the current winter season catches my eye. First of all, medical dramas with an investigative/suspense twist are my cup of tea. As the title suggests, we are looking at a bunch of "monsters" in this drama who seem to be embarking on some sacred mission but something is not quite right about this undertaking. It still remains to be seen who are the real "evil" monsters in this drama but at least from the first episode, we are seeing some clues as to who might be potential monsters and why they might be motivated to become one.

Secondly, the cast lineup is made up of quite a number of my favourite actors like Nakatani Miki, Katsumura Masanobu, Kohinata Fumio, Kato Ai, Hasegawa Hiroki, Suzuki An. As for the lead actor Okada Masaki, I've seen him in a number of dramas and movies so far and quite like his acting but his babyface is always a concern when it comes to him taking on more serious or older characters. This character looks like something which can be a potential hit for him so I'm hoping that he can make full use of the opportunity.

Having said all that, let me introduce the characters first before giving a summary of what happened in the first episode:

Shiba Kengo (Okada Masaki)
Kasugai Yuka (Nakatani Miki)
Hyuga Keiko (Kato Ai)
Hyuga Toshio (Hasegawa Hiroki)
Arima Mie (Suzuki An)
Itokawa Yojiro (Watanabe Ikkei)
Mizuhara Ryoji (Katsumura Masanobu)
Okubo Shiro (Kohinata Fumio)
Hirai Yoko (Oomasa Aya)
Shiba Sogo (Hirata Mitsuru)

SPOILERS ALERT!!

One rainy night at Okubo Memorial Hospital, a pregnant woman is sent to the entrance of the hospital even though she has no scheduled appointment for delivery. Shiba Kengo, the doctor on duty that night, decides to do a Ceasarean because of complications with the mother's condition. However, soon after a baby boy is born, the mother dies. Unknown to Shiba, this incident isn't a coincidence but a culmination of various arrangements and happenings...

The story reverses back to 1 year ago when Shiba was told to transfer to Okubo which was facing financial difficulties. At the same time, Hyuga Keiko who is pregnant, is holding her wedding to Hyuga Toshio, the rich owner of an educational business but feels unwell during the ceremony. Suddenly, she collapses in a pool of blood and is sent to the university hospital where Shiba works at...

Although Shiba is reluctant and not so enthusiastic about his new workplace, he starts to discover that there is satisfaction and value in being a hands-on doctor who saves lives, thanks to the calm and capable chief nurse Kasugai Yuka. He also gets advice and information about his co-workers from a patient Itokawa who's been hospitalised for some time.

One night, a boy who suffers from peritonitis is admitted for an emergency operation but Shiba is apprehensive about taking this on because he has no experience. With "encouragement" from Kasugai, Shiba manages to complete the operation successfully.

Keiko visits Kasugai and it is revealed that they are sisters who grew up in an orphanage. Keiko pleads with Kasugai to be her surrogate mother as she can no longer give birth to her own child following the removal of her uterus. However, Kasugai reminds Keiko that surrogate births are forbidden in Japan and doesn't agree to it. Nonetheless, Keiko doesn't want to give up while Kasugai is shaken by Keiko's desperation. 

When Kasugai goes to visit Keiko at her place, seeing how Keiko is treated by her mother-in-law shakes her resolve in doing what's right. In addition, after hearing Shiba's story of his mother risking her life to give birth to him and seeing how a mother disregards the well-being of her child, Kasugai finally decides to help Keiko who wants a child but can't do it herself. On the other hand, Shiba is unknowingly drawn into this whole fiasco without knowing what is going on...

The first episode's pace is relatively fast and sets out to introduce the characters to us and show the main motive for turning the characters into monsters. What is at stake here will be the surrogate pregnancy initiated by Keiko. However, it is not something as easy as getting someone to bear the child for her. Doctors aren't supposed to help with delivering babies from surrogate mothers. I can see that is why Shiba will be drawn into this mess because the people involved will need someone who's oblivious to what's going on in order for this to work. Just from the first scene alone, you can see some suspicious acts by Kasugai which all made sense by the time you finish watching the first episode:

- Kasugai was standing by the window and looking at the entrance before the pregnant woman was sent to the hospital's entrance. She didn't rush out immediately to find out what was going on and waited till the person who sent the woman had left before raising the alarm.
- Kasugai was being rather insistent that Shiba should do the Ceasarean at Okubo rather than sending the pregnant woman to another hospital.

Kasugai couldn't risk letting others know that the woman was sent to Okubo on purpose so she was aware beforehand that the woman was coming. In short, she's part of the surrogate pregnancy scam. Initially, she still stuck to her morals as a medical professional but when she saw her own sister was suffering due to the inability to produce a heir, she just went straight into this crazy idea for Keiko's sake. To be frank, if you have seen the 2nd episode's trailer, it should strike you that Kasugai seems to have lost her usual rational side now that she's decided to go all out to help Keiko.

Keiko's insistence on bearing a child for her husband didn't strike me as solely pure love for her own children but rather, it was also prompted by the fact that her in-laws and her husband's ex-wife were hurling sarcasm at her while maintaining this nice facade. She needs a child to cement her position in the family although I think her husband Toshio doesn't seem to like kids that much and I get the feeling that he's not too concerned that Keiko can't get pregnant although he says that he loves her more than children.

From the trailer, it looks like the surrogate mother isn't going to be Kasugai after all but rather Arima Mie, a teacher who works in the Hyuga family's kindergarten. Since the opening scene already showed Kasugai as one of those who helped in the delivery of the baby, this would have ruled her out. It remains to be seen how they manage to convince Mie to undertake this crucial role of being the surrogate mother.

Another person who looks likely to be involved in this would be the hospital's owner i.e. Okubo. He is at his wits' end due to the hospital's bad financial position but I think his chance meeting with Hyuga Toshio would probably mean something later. If he's desperate enough for money to save his hospital, he would probably agree to letting the surrogate mother give birth in his hospital.

It does look like Shiba will be in the hot soup for helping to deliver the baby boy. There may be legal repercussions even though he is totally unaware of the scam but I think his emotional outburst or change in his mindset after the whole episode is exposed might be something more interesting to look out for as we progress further in this drama. The fate of these "monsters" would also be worth checking out. On the whole, I think the first episode did pretty well in igniting my interest so I should be following this for a while or even till the end if it turns out to be very engaging.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Preview of Seinaru Kaibutsutachi (The Sacred Monsters) 聖なる怪物たち

Title: Seinaru Kaibutsutachi (The Sacred Monsters) 聖なる怪物たち
Official website: here
Broadcast by: TV Asahi
Timeslot: Thursdays, 9pm
O.A. Start Date: 19 Jan 2012
Theme Song: Away Maria by Katherine Jenkins
Original Novel by: Kawahara Ren
Cast: Okada Masaki, Nakatani Miki, Hasegawa Hiroki, Kato Ai, Watanabe Ikkei, Oomasa Aya, Tominaga Saori, Suzuki An, Katsumura Masanobu, Kohinata Fumio, Fujiyoshi Kumiko, Hirata Mitsuru

Friday, January 27, 2012

Ninomiya Kazunari & Toyokawa Etsushi to star in "Platina Data"

Ninomiya Kazunari of ARASHI will star in the movie adaptation of Higashino Keigo's novel "Platina Data" as reported on 26 Jan 12. This will be the 2nd time he is participating in the adaptation of a Higashino novel since the drama Ryuusei no Kizuna in 2008. The movie is scheduled to be shown in cinemas next week and filming will begin in Feb.

The story is set in 2017 where there is a database called Platina Data which collects the DNA profiles of every citizen in Japan. Ninomiya plays a scientist named Kagura Ryuhei who works on DNA analysis for the police but is framed for murder while helping with the investigations of a serial murder case and becomes a fugitive.

On the other hand, Toyokawa Etsushi plays a veteran police detective who has serious doubts about scientific methods employed in investigations. This will be the first time he is working with Ninomiya.

The novel was published in June 2010 and has sold 210,000 copies to date. There were more than 20 movie companies and TV stations which had made the offer to do an adaptation before Toho got the deal.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Preview of Second Virgin セカンドバージン

Title: Second Virgin セカンドバージン
Official website: here
Total number of episodes: 10
Broadcast by: NHK
Timeslot: Tuesdays 10pm
Shown: 12 Oct 2010 to 14 Dec 2010
Scriptwriter: Ooishi Shizuka
Theme song: Anata dake ga (Only You) by Koda Kumi
Cast: Suzuki Kyoka, Fukada Kyoko, Hasegawa Hiroki, Ayano Gou, YOU, Danta Yasunori, Tamaru Maki, Fuse Akira, Kusabue Mitsuko
Average rating: 8.6% (5.5% -> 7.3% -> 8.6% -> 7.8% -> 8.3% -> 9.4% -> 8.3% -> 8.2% -> 11.0% -> 11.5%)

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Preview of Hungry! ハングリー! - Winter 2012

Title: Hungry! ハングリー!
Official website: here
Broadcast by: FujiTV / KTV
Timeslot: Tuesdays 10pm
Theme Song: ROCK ME BABY by THE BAWDIES
Insert Song: Mayonaka no Hidamari by Yasuda Nao
Cast: Mukai Osamu, Takimoto Miori, Kuninaka Ryoko, Tsukamoto Takashi, Miura Shohei, Kawabata Kaname (CHEMISTRY), Suzuki Sawa, Katagiri Hairi, Miyaji Mao, Ishiguro Hideo, Tayama Ryosei, Lin Dan Dan, Yamashita Rio, Katahira Nagisa, Osugi Ren, Inagaki Goro

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Preview of Shokuzai 贖罪 (Atonement)

Title: Shokuzai 贖罪 (Atonement)
Official website: here
Broadcast by: WOWOW
Timeslot: Sundays 10pm
Total number of episodes: 5
O.A. Start Date: 8 Jan 2012
Original novel by: Minato Kanae
Cast: Koizumi Kyoko, Aoi Yu, Koike Eiko, Ando Sakura, Ikewaki Chizuru, Tanaka Tetsushi, Takahashi Hitomi, Moriyama Mirai, Matsumoto Marika, Mizuhashi Kenji, Kase Ryo etc.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Review of Strawberry Night (drama SP)

Note that this review relates to the 2010 drama SP of Strawberry Night, not the current series which is showing on FujiTV this season. I will probably write the review for the drama when it finishes its run.

Just to give you a short background about this drama SP: Himekawa Reiko (Takeuchi Yuko) is an assistant inspector in charge of a team in Metropolitan Police Department's 1st Investigation Division. Despite the fact that she made it to this position at a very young age of 29 and didn't have any special connections to help her, she is belittled by her peers at work and constantly given unflattering nicknames like Ojou-chan as if to show that she is like a pampered girl who can't do anything in the police organisation. Nonetheless, she has a team of faithful subordinates who trust in her e.g. Kikuta Kazuo (Nishijima Hidetoshi), Otsuka Shinji (Kiritani Kenta) and Ishikura Tamotsu (Ukaji Takashi). Unknown to everyone else, Himekawa has a dark secret that she is still trying to overcome which also happens to be the motivation behind her drive in becoming a police officer.

Himekawa's team is assigned to handle a case of a dead man whose corpse was wrapped up in plastic and dumped just beside a reservoir instead of being disposed into the water. As they try to investigate the bewildering turn of events, more bodies turn up and the team has to contend with competition from other teams especially Katsumata Kensaku (Takeda Tetsuya) who tries to keep all the leads to himself in order to get to the mastermind earlier than Himekawa.

I wouldn't go into too many details about the story or its conclusion since that would mean having to put down lots of spoilers in this review. Just some thoughts about this drama SP:

- This type of prejudice against a woman in the workplace despite her achievements is something that's not new at all especially when you see all the taunting Himekawa had to withstand. Having seen exactly what she had to go through in order to get to where she is, you have to hand it to Himekawa's determination.

- I like the way Himekawa's character is crafted because you don't see the tough side of her only. The displays of vulnerability were also left quite a deep impression on me. I like Takeuchi Yuko's acting which tried to balance these two sides to Himekawa but it can be a bit difficult to get used to Takeuchi speaking so roughly on screen.

- The case itself was quite intriguing for 3/4 of the time but when it was getting near to the end, it was rather easy to see where the story was heading and who was the culprit. Seems like this idea of having someone who looks the least like the culprit be the mastermind is very popular but frankly speaking, the concept's getting a bit stale especially when you have that exchange of words between that person and Himekawa in the climax. One is trying to justify the reason for killing people while the other is trying to preach by saying things like you are wrong. It might be a better to reduce the words spoken during such scenes because ultimately, it's a war of words which come to nowhere.

- What intrigued me to watch this wasn't really because of the story. The assembly of strong actors such as Nishijima Hidetoshi, Ukaji Takashi, Watanabe Ikkei (he's always shouting at the top of his voice though), Takashima Masahiro (he's one suave and hot guy in this SP!), Endo Kenichi (his appearance was very limited though), Takeda Tetsuya and Namase Katsuhisa made this SP really appealing. It would be worth watching if the drama series gives these actors enough room to develop their characters. I certainly hope that all these talent would not go to waste.

And my ratings for this drama SP...
Story: 7.5 out of 10 (If only the climax could be a bit more succint, I would have given this a higher score.)
Acting: 7 out of 10 (Generally good but felt that some of the supporting actors didn't get enough time to show what they've got)
Theme song: 6 out of 10 (I only heard Shibasaki Kou's song at the credits section but I liked what I heard. BGM-wise, it was also OK.)
Visual effects / Scenery: 4 out of 10 (Most of the scenes take place in the police station or outside on streets where there isn't a lot of scenery to speak about)
Teamwork / Chemistry: 6 out of 10 (The chemistry in Himekawa's team was quite good so I guess there is more room for improvement when they get to the drama series)

Total: 30.5 out of 50

Friday, January 20, 2012

Review of Paradise Kiss (movie)

Before watching this movie, I had certain expectations of it. This is the burden that comes with knowing the source material beforehand but on the other hand, this pre-knowledge offers a different perspective as to whether the adaptation is better, as good as or worse than the original. Having seen the anime which I was rather impressed with and read the manga which I liked better than the anime, I was hoping for the movie to lift the bar higher.

To be frank, I was quite worried about the fate of this movie when the casting list was announced. Mukai Osamu as George? Would he look exactly like George? What's going to happen to his hair if he plays George? Kitagawa Keiko as Yukari? Erm...she doesn't look like Yukari and her acting skills aren't that impressive (at least to me). How would they handle the adult material e.g. the classic scene of George and Yukari's first night together? Are they going to follow the manga's ending? All these reservations made it difficult for me to feel excited about watching this movie. And when I finally watched it, I must say my worst fears have been proven.

Just a note of caution, from this point on, there will be spoilers about the story and remarks that fans of Mukai and Kitagawa probably won't like to read about. I must declare that first of all, I have nothing against them. In fact, I do like Mukai but for Kitagawa, I have to admit that I've never been keen on watching her dramas and movies. If you feel uncomfortable about reading spoilers or my views on the cast in this movie, I really recommend that you should skip this post now.

The biggest issue I have is with the story. I'm not sure whether it's because the target audience is teenagers or the producers wanted to avoid a restricted rating. The movie seems to have the intention of describing the relationship between George and Yukari as something very fairytale-like and well, to put it bluntly, very platonic. The manga and anime shows the attraction between them as something sizzling, passionate, spontaneous and possibly destructive (because Yukari left home just to be ParaKiss' model and stay with George instead of focusing on her exams like she always did). However, I get the feeling that Yukari's (Kitagawa) feelings for Tokumori (Yamamoto Yusuke) are stronger than that of what felt for George (Mukai). True, George did appear to Yukari in the movie as someone really fascinating and hard to fathom but it felt more like curiousity towards George rather than love. The kiss scene backstage before the fashion show didn't quite have the desired impact of showing their feelings for each other. As such, when George and Yukari finally met and got together in NY, I didn't get the feeling that they really wanted to be with each other or that I should feel happy for them in any way.

I can understand if the scriptwriter, director or producers wanted a fairytale ending so as to attract female audiences or to increase the sweetness factor to make them squeal in delight. However, the very reason why I liked ParaKiss' anime and manga was that it is reflective of the real world, no matter how harsh the truth can be or the regrets people have to bear with as they grow older. I have no doubts that Yukari and George did have very strong feelings for each other no doubt it seemed too fast and the intimate scenes gave the impression that lust was more obvious than love. However, the truth is, their circumstances at that time were not conducive for them to continue being together. George had to go to NY so that he could let his talent develop without inhibitions while Yukari had to stay in Japan to achieve her dream of being a model. That is why they had to let go of each other despite not wanting to. Somehow, the movie tries too hard to show the message that true love can overcome everything (you know, the usual drift of time and distance doesn't matter in true love) but there is always another take to the situation. Being in love sometimes doesn't mean having to stay together for the sake of doing it. If I am still a teenager or someone in my early twenties who still harbour dreams of a fairytale romance AND I did not read the manga nor watch the anime, I would have accepted George and Yukari's reunion at the end of the movie more readily.

It was also a waste to see supporting characters like Arashi (Kaku Kento), Miwako (Oomasa Aya) and Isabella (Igarashi Shunji) being relegated to the sidelines because there was simply not enough time to spend on them. I would have loved to see the tension and awkwardness between Arashi, Miwako and Tokumori which was an interesting arc in the manga. Isabella's story with George was also brushed away too lightly which was a pity because Isabella and George shared an unspeakable bond due to their ability to understand the struggles with being different from others.

Talking about whether the main cast fitted the characters they were playing, I feel that they were all lacking in their own ways mainly due to the story and limited character development.

I admit that I've not been impressed by Kitagawa's performance so far in various dramas or movies. And all along, I've held the notion that Yukari = Yamada Yu. This opinion was strengthened when I watched the anime and Yamada impressed me with her delivery even though my response towards her acting in general is lukewarm at best. It is more difficult to act without the aid of body language and seeing the actor's expression so I thought her effort was very commendable. It may seem unfair to write Kitagawa off just because of her past track record or my preference for Yamada Yu but As for why Kitagawa was chosen, it could be that she is popular these days (a sure bet for high box office takings?) or she's two years younger than Yamada. It felt rather awkward to see her acting as a high school student though. Personally, I didn't think she potrayed the emotions in Yukari very well and the chemistry between her and Mukai Osamu was really lacking. On hindsight, maybe Kutsuna Shiori would have been a better fit.

George could have been a very good charater for Mukai to build on his high popularity these days (just like what Chiaki did for Tamaki Hiroshi) but too bad the chance wasn't there in the first place. The story didn't help in showing George's multi-faceted character even though Mukai is capable of doing better. The brooding parts were too much so it would have been better to show a lighter side of him to achieve a better balance. Appearance-wise, I was secretly hoping for Mukai to shave his hair like George but that may be asking too much of him if there are contracts whcih require him to maintain his hairstyle.

As for the other main characters, I think Igarashi looked quite good as Isabella while Oomasa was a tad too tall to play the petite Miwako but her kawaii-ness was bearable. I couldn't recognise Oomasa until I got to the credits section because she looked too much like someone of m I felt that Yamamoto didn't seem to match Tokumori's image (a little lacking in nerdiness?) while Kaku's potrayal of Arashi was a bit too loud for my liking.

Having said all that, it doesn't mean that this movie is something you definitely shouldn't touch. If you haven't seen the anime nor read the manga, in the mood for some fluffy onscreen romance (meaning, don't let logic rule your emotions) or like the leads, you should go ahead to watch this. Otherwise, if you feel strongly for the characters or the original story, you might as well skip this and save yourself the agony of getting angry over the butchered plot and the gap between your impresssions of the characters and the actual delivery in this movie.

And my ratings for this movie...
Story: 1 out of 10 (I felt like giving it a zero but decided against being too brutal in my assessment of this area)
Acting: 3 out of 10 (None of them really stood out partly because of the limited character development except for cameos by George's dad and mum!)
Theme song: 4 out of 10 (Yui's song is nice but didn't really mesh with the theme nor was fully utilised to bring out the intended effect)
Visual effects / Scenery: 5 out of 10 (Thumbs up for the fashion, not the fashion show in the climax. Scenery-wise, nothing that I particularly remembered)
Teamwork / Chemistry: 2 out of 10 (If this movie is a sign of things between Kitagawa and Mukai, the rumours about them being an item during the filming of this movie feel like a big fat lie to me.)

Total: 15 out of 50