Watched Crying For Love, In The Center Of The World 世界の中心で、愛をさけぶ couple of nights ago with family. I have heard many good things about it, like how this film how successful this film is in Japan last year and how it became a pop-culture phenomenom. Also, director Yukisada Isao's previous feature, GO was pretty incredible.
So, yes, based on the plot, this movie SHOULD reek of melodrama and manipulative tear-jerking you see all the time in Korean dramas. You know, the ones where the girl suffers from terminal illness, and how her poor boyfriend has to cope with this, and how their pure and strong love triumphs over everything in the very end.
However, I think this is pretty much a Japanese filmmaker's answer to such generic Korean melodramas, by showing that a sentimental and tragic romance can be presented just as effectively without use of overwhelmingly overbearning pop songs, or crazy slow-mo close-ups of the protagonists whilst they are grimacing in pain, and spouting cliched and cheesy lines that defy description blah blah. (*cough*WinterSonata*cough*)
The story's about a 30-something man, Sakutaro) who returns home one day and realizes that his fiancee, Ritsuko, has left abruptly after the listening to an old cassette tape addressed to Saku and hearing a young girl's voice. Saku begins having memories of his past.
And then, the film shifts focus to 17 years ago, in 1986, where we get to observe a budding romance between Saku and his classmate, Aki, back when they were in high school. Besides getting into various misadventures, the young couple often record messages for each other on cassette tapes and exchange them in school. And modern-day Saku spends most of the film listening to these old tapes from Aki as he relives this long-forgotten romance. Of course, the question is whether he can find Ritsuko as well.
So, the film intercuts between scenes of adult Saku looking for Ritsuko, and the Saku/Aki storyline that slowly spirals into tragedy. The ending is quite predictable, but it's the journey there that's rather unexpected. Paced like a thriller, making use of stylish camera tricks and such, it's a gripping film. Some memorable and deep dialogue, some great acting (especially from Masumi Nagasawa as Aki, who started out so quirky and fun, that you might end up not being able to bear seeing her suffer that much in pain), some powerfully vivid scenes.
It's a fine movie, albeit a wee bit too lengthy. Instead of trying hard to tug at my heartstrings, all it did was to show me the unfolding of a tragedy, which is a good thing. And it kinda reminds me of the HK flick from the early 90s starring Lau Ching Wan and Anita Yuen, C'est La Vie, Mon Cherie. It doesn't exactly blow me away as I've expected, neither does it leave me a lasting impression that makes me want to watch it again, but if you are into this kind of stuff, just give it a go.