TOKYO FRIENDS: THE MOVIE is best enjoyed by two groups of people:
1) Ai Otsuka fans.
2) Fans of the TOKYO FRIENDS straight-to-DVD dorama series.
I'm pretty fond of Ai, so I chose to watch this on the plane to Taiwan despite never watching the dorama.
It was a mistake.
Perhaps I don't belong to the target audience, or maybe regular folks like I were never taken into account when the film was being made.
Here's a summary of the TOKYO FRIENDS dorama:
Rei Iwatsuki (Ai Otsuka) moved from her hometown Kōchi to Tokyo to pursue her dreams. On arrival, she found a job as a waitress in a restaurant and met guitarist Ryuuji Shintani. Ryuuji (Eita) liked her voice and invited her to join his band as the vocalist, The Survival Company (also known as Sabakan). The two started a relationship but then broke off when Rei wanted to write her own songs.
Rei met other girls also working in the restaurant, Hirono (Matsumoto Rio), Ryoko (Maki Yoko) and Maki (Kobayashi Mao), all in pursuit of their own dreams, and became good friends with all of them.
It's like Sex and the City, but without the sex and the humour. Each of the four girls have their own subplots, and perhaps it's interesting to see all these unfold in the dorama. Too bad these story arcs are near their ends (except Rei and Hirono's) when the movie began, so I'm really watching a flimsy little love story that lacked any buildup and development (because all these were done in the dorama, not the film). Events of the dorama were presented via flashbacks in the film, not so difficult for me to catch up, but still alienating nonetheless.
Maybe this shouldn't be viewed at as an actual film, the usual criteria used to judge a film shouldn't be used here. After all, Justin himself had once pointed out that I was too harsh when I started commenting upon the choppy editing in Ai Otsuka's KINGYO HANABI short film (a nice-looking short film redeemed by the beautiful song which SHOULD HAVE APPEARED IN THIS FILM AS WELL!)
I can't like the film. The humour felt forced. The melodrama too choke-inducing. The characters too soulless. It's like hanging out with a bunch of people, and these people know one another well, constantly making in-jokes, laughing about previous events, exchanging heart-to-heart talks, and then seemingly excluding your from their conversations. Gatherings like that sucked, and I felt like strangling those selfish bastards who DARED made me feel so utterly alienated. (Obviously recounting real-life experiences) The film gave me a similar experience.
The story of the film is mostly about Rei's struggle between choosing fame and romance. Fame as a vocalist in an upcoming band. Romance with a roguish guitarist.
I think I've seen the same film not too long ago. Oh, right, that film was NANA 2. Although, to be fair, Ryuuji is slightly more interesting than bland Ren (regardless of whom played the character in the NANA films), maybe that's because he shows more expression on his face. Even so, the climatic declaration of love the airport made me shudder, though I was momentarily melted by Ai Otsuka's soulful tearful look, but only momentarily.
Ai showed in her debut feature that she is competent as an actress, but despite being pretty, I think she lacked the presence of Nakashima Mika in NANA.
Director Kozo Nagayama is also responsible for BACKDANCERS! starring the love of my teenage life, Hiro. (A film I lauded so crazily early this year that it seemed as if it were a life-altering moment)
I tried to wonder why I was so enthralled by BACKDANCERS and not TOKYO FRIENDS: THE MOVIE. Am I being bias? If hiro was thrown into TOKYO FRIENDS: THE MOVIE, would I go apeshit over it?
After a minute of pondering, I guess not, since I diss ANDROMEDIA (that SPEED film vehicle directed by Takashi Miike which had renowned Christopher Doyle as a villain!) as much as anyone.
My advice? If you've watched and loved the TOKYO FRIENDS dorama (check out Channel-Ai's review), you'll probably love this film. If you were just a casual watcher, you might suffering, feel alienated, or numb.
I was rather glad that there was a fast-forward feature when watching the movie in the plane.
Sorry, Ai Otsuka.
However, I found myself drowning into Rio Matsumoto's huge luminous eyes whenever I saw her in a scene.
Tokyo Friends: The Movie teaser