Friday, June 12, 2015

Nippon Reviews: Hakoiri Musuko no Koi (Blindly in Love)

Blindly in Love (Hakoiri Musuko no Koi): Written by Takahiro Tamura and Masahide Ichii, directed by Masahide Ichii.  Starring: Gen Hoshino, Kaho, Ren Osugi, Ryoko Moriyama, and Sei Hiraizumi.  Running Time: 117 minutes. 

Rating: 3/4

            When attempting to make a romantic comedy, possibly one of the most conventionally popular forms of film in existence, there is only one, single criterion that must be fulfilled; the writing, characters, and performances of the main couple have to be earnest, committed, likeable, and relatable enough for us, the audience, to root wholeheartedly for them to succeed and come together by the end.  Away with demands for a creative story, original setup, or side characters that break the expected mold!  None of that matters, because in a romcom, no one expects originality, just simple heart throbbing.  If the main couple works, and in some measure set themselves apart from the legions of wannabes clawing at their heels like the undead, the movie will work.  If they don’t, no insurance company will cover the cleanup of the ensuing dreary disaster. 

            Thankfully, not only do the two lovebirds in Blindly in Love work as a couple, they work blindingly well.  I immediately apologize for that terrible joke.  Anyway- Kentaro is a recluse, working the exact number of needed hours at his job every day, and then going immediately home.  He makes no push for promotion or advancement at his place of work, he never eats out, never goes drinking with colleagues, and generally has no contact with anyone at all outside of his parents and their very intrusive neighbor.  His only interests are saving money, playing video games, and tending to his pet frog.  Worried that he will never learn to interact with people, make friends, or fall in love, his parents play the part of the matchmaker and try to set him up with the daughter of a well-off couple they meet.  What they don’t know, at least until they take their son to meet her face-to-face, is that the girl, named Naoko, has been blind for many years.   

            Naoko’s father, playing the part of the asshole wet blanket we’ve seen an endless number of times before, is, of course, completely against this, arguing again and again that Kentaro is not man enough to take care of his daughter (and, of course, his own idea of masculinity is called into question later on).  Naoko’s mother, of course, sees more to the young, shy man they meet, and she secretly begins arranging lunchtime meetings between the two, and over time their affection for each other develops into real love, which delights Kentaro’s parents to no end.  Until, of course, the other father finds out, and sets off determined to keep them apart forever. 

            And that’s really all the time worth devoting to the story, because let’s be honest, none of it changes the formula, and none of you expect it to.  What does matter is that Naoko and Kentaro commit wholly to their respective roles, and their efforts, plus some smartly-timed comedy, create a genuine cuteness to the film that most viewers will find hard to resist. 

            Kentaro’s transformation is particularly fun to watch, especially in the beginning where he’s flabbergasted at his parents’ ceaseless efforts to get him to date someone; they even resort to challenging him in video games when their desperation reaches a fever pitch.  He starts off with a face of emotionless stone, with a countenance not dissimilar to that of the frogs he loves so much, but once he starts to let his feelings grow, he begins to break out seamlessly into laughing and smiling faces that radiate true joy.  It’s a very contained performance, with a few key exceptions, but that’s ultimately what makes it feel real. 

            That pet frog of his, by the way, is also the source of several bits of clever cinematic foreshadowing- in one example, the scene where Kentaro finally agrees to go out on a date with Noaoko, the camera suddenly focuses on his frog sitting in its cage behind him.  We had already seen it several times over the course of the film, including in the opening shot, but for the very first time up to that point, its eyes are open. 

            If I had a grievance, other than the very standard structure to the story- the only trope they studiously avoid is having a coworker of Kentaro’s come on to him and create a brief, heartbroken misunderstanding between the two, and even there they veer perilously close- it would be a relative lack of actual comedy.  This is a disappointment only because the bits they do have are timed perfectly, and laugh-out-loud hilarious.  A particular moment involving a mistaken identity at a restaurant nearly had me fall out of my chair.  More such moments could have raised the film to a whole other level.  But for what it is, I wholly enjoyed it, and wouldn’t hold back a recommendation to anyone. 

-Noah Franc 

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