July 15, 2015

MacGuffin man

The couple in question.
As I mentioned in my previous post about Kimi ni Todoke, two supporting characters, Chizuru and Ryu, are substantively more interesting than the main characters, Sawako and Shota. As for the latter two, ultimately there's not a whole lot of "there" there.

That's not an insurmountable problem in story like this (with so much else going on). But as Kate asks, "What on earth will they talk about for the rest of their lives if they can no longer talk about their growing romance?"

Pushing aside everything you know about the characters from the anime, the live-action movie makes this hard to ignore. On the plus side, it hits all the major plot points from the first season of the anime. The two-hour time constraint means much less angst to wade through.

But the deeper side-story about Ryu and Chizuru is reduced to about five minutes. Racing from conflict to conflict, the relationship among Sawako, Ayane and Chizuru--the true substance of the series--becomes a fait accompli rather than a nurtured and growing thing.

In the process, Shota ends up a conventional teen lead, little more than a "MacGuffin." That's Hollywood slang for "a plot device in the form of some goal, desired object, or other motivator that the protagonist pursues, often with little or no narrative explanation."

What separates formula romance from, say, Jane Austen, is giving the heroine a reason to want the hero aside from him being the closest available white knight. Aside from being a nice guy, nothing about Shota convinces us that he is desired for anything more than being desirable.

Even in the movie, we learn far more about Ryu than we ever do about Shota. (The movie actually adds more backstory about Sawako than is in the anime.)

As Sawako, Mikako Tabe, in turn, has to lean more heavily on affect than acting. Trying too hard to match the look of the anime forces her to compete with her hair in the early scenes. Her performance improves considerably when she can finally wear her hair up or back.

Even then, she has barely any material to work with, other than her character's odd personality. The movie unintentionally makes it obvious that here are two kids who really need to get themselves a life, something more substantive than pining for each other.

Sawako at least has her flower garden. I would have liked to see this used much more as an outer expression of her inner self. Make her a budding botanist.

Kimi ni Todoke is a good example of how animation can be the superior visual medium when so much of the subject matter is internal or subjective. Manga artist Karuho Shiina can draw what she wants us to see (hair, to start with), especially if she wants us to see a state of mind.

Sawako and Chizuru in super-deformed mode.

Manga and anime have rich repertoires of abstract effects and visual metaphors, such as the "super-deformed" style.(1) These effects don't interrupt the narrative and announce themselves precisely because they are drawn. We've already disassociated story from "reality."

Pixar has further proven the point with Inside Out.

I think a movie adaptation like Kimi ni Todoke would work better by addressing a far smaller slice of the original. A straightforward summation of events, however accurate, simply can't generate the same emotional Sturm und Drang.

They look and can play the parts.

The movie does get a few things exactly right: Haru Aoyama and Misako Renbutsu are perfectly cast as Ryu and Chizuru. There's the better movie to make: flip the point-of-view around and tell the story from their perspective. All the necessary material is already available.

Related posts

Kimi ni Todoke (anime manga)

Here is a useful guide to the dating scene in Japan.

Japan's “Love Confessing” Culture
What It's Like Dating A Japanese Girl
What It's Like Dating A Japanese Guy

1. Although "super-deformed" is generally considered analogous to "chibi," I think it's more semantically useful to define "super-deformed" literally and "chibi" as a sub-category.

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