December 9, 2016
In recent years, only violent action Japanese films, like "Ruruoni Kenshin,""Attack on Titan" and "Godzilla Resurgence," got shown in local cinemas. In total contrast, this new film seemed to be a teenage romance drama if you were to judge it by the poster. I would not have intended to watch it, except that my daughter was really excited to go see it. She has in fact read the manga twice!
Kōsei Arima is a piano prodigy since he was a child. He was actually famous for winning major piano competitions at a very young age. Now 17 years old, Kosei does not play piano anymore ever since the death of his mother, who was his piano teacher and harshest critic. Through his good friends Tsubaki and Watari, Kosei meets Kaori Miyazono. She is a girl who played violin with a rebellious streak, believing that music is free and should not be strictly defined.
This film features a cast of attractive young Japanese actors and actresses, Suzu Hirose as Kaori Miyazono, Kento Yamazaki as Kōsei Arima, Anna Ishii as Tsubaki Sawabe and Taishi Nakagawa as Ryōta Watari. Yes, for most scenes, they played it cute for their teenage target demographic. However, the four, especially Hirose and Yamazaki, were still able to effectively make the proper emotional connection to elicit romantic thrill and painful tears with their audience.
I do not know if they were really playing those instruments, but Hirose and Yamazaki certainly convinced me that they were violin and piano prodigies for real. They were performing with utmost confidence, flair and bravado as only real musicians could, unless they were really very good actors. They were playing entire pieces of classical music here, by Mozart and Rachmaninoff among others, not just snippets. I thought these scenes were simply a joy to watch and listen to, while hearing commentaries from the judges, the audience and the artists themselves.
My daughter said that in the manga, the characters were only supposed to be 14-year olds. I thought making them older at 17 can bring up a more comfortable sense of romance. The film was able to capture all the highlights of the story, effectively delivering a more compact and logical version of the story by judiciously deleting less vital sub-plots. I thought the storytelling was fluid, not episodic at all.
For me, I really liked the first part of the film, which was so youthfully energetic. All those musical performance scenes were so magnificently shot and edited, as if we were all attending a real classical concert. People who don't like classical music may squirm with impatience or even fall asleep (like Watari, haha). But I was riveted with the music, even if I was not familiar with the pieces. The scene in the cafe with the kids playing "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" at the piano was simply adorable.
The heavier drama of the third act felt a bit too long for me, since I thought it was just prolonging the inevitable. However, my daughter loved how they did this last part very much, so what do I know what these teenagers like? Anyhow, I liked how neatly all the details of the story were wrapped up in one enlightening monologue and montage. All in all, I liked the positive spirit of the film -- so innocent, so carefree, and yes, so kawaii. 8/10.