From Me To You or Kimi ni Todoke (2010)
The question of genres flashed to the forefront of my mind as I watched this film. It’s always good when you can pigeonhole a film. That label gives you a yardstick against which to measure how well this latest addition to the canon matches up against those that went before. So I vaguely started off with the notion this is a teen romance. After all, it’s a live action version of Kimi ni Todoke, the prize-winning shōjo manga by Karuho Shiina, later adapted into anime. Here’s a classroom full of fifteen-year olds and, with hormones surging in the blood, they will pair off. Except this is a Japanese film and hormones never surge in that culture. Everything is formal and detached until, with shyness overcome, the young things finally proclaim they “like” each other. Except, if couples are exposed at the end, that’s more a subplot unwinding. There’s a lot more to the forefront as the film unwraps itself. So, I switched the label to a rite-of-passage film where youngsters go through trials and tribulations, and emerge closer to adulthood than before. Sadly, this being modern Japan, there are no lions for them to kill using nothing more than a kitchen knife, but they do have to go through the fire (in Japanese terms). Then I got to think this was a tragedy and was hoping they would all emerge still emotionally alive at the end of it. Finally, I got angry with the parents of the main female character. They have to qualify as the most annoying watch-from-a-distance-but-don’t interfere parents on the planet. It’s good in theory they allow their daughter space to grow up, but they are still supposed to be on the same planet.
So here’s the set-up for From Me To You or Kimi ni Todoke (2010), the live-action version. Sawako Kuronuma (Mikako Tabe) goes through her formative years with her parents telling her that, to be a good member of society, she must do at least one good deed every day. This works really well in the early years because she’s loving and helpful to everyone. Unfortunately, the Japanese film industry then blights her life. When The Ring or Ringu appears in 1998, there’s an unfortunate transference. Sawako looks exactly like Sadoko and the closeness in the names confirms the general view she’s the human version of the film character and can curse anyone who makes eye contact for more than three seconds. The result? She instantly passes from the most popular girl to a complete outsider, shunned by all as if she was a plague-carrier. At this point, my anger at the parents began to grow. When even the teachers in the school we see, seem to share and potentially encourage this ostracisation, my anger began to include all responsible adults in the town/city. How can everyone stand back and watch this child be reduced to a semi-autistic state by such persistent persecution lasting years? It’s absolutely unconscionable, particularly because Japan ostensibly operates on the basis of Edo Neo-Confuscianism, i.e. there’s supposed to be an essential rationality and mutualism combining to promote social harmony. This group of children and affected adults prove to be worse than Western equivalents who, having no comparable philosophical system to keep them on the straight and narrow, might be expected to act like predatory animals.
Anyway, at the beginning of the new school year, she meets Shota Kazehaya (Haruma Miura) and, in Japanese terms, a spark flies between them. However, he proves to be outgoing and the most likeable boy in the class (as befits anyone who’s been one of a successful J-pop group). So, if he’s going to break ranks with the peer group, he’s going to have to kill the lion with a kitchen knife. When it comes to crossing the line, he’s joined by two “girls”, Chizuru Yoshida (Misako Renbutsu) and Ayane Yano (Watanabe Natsuna) (it should be said none of these four actually look fifteen-years old, but that’s not really important). In retrospect, the lion proves largely illusory, as we might expect. We then come to the second act as the two girls slowly discover there’s a real person hiding behind the concealing hairstyle. They begin the process of humanising Sawako. Without this emotional support, Sawako could never emerge from her shell and respond to Kazehaya who sweats humble sincerity from every pore (pop stars like Haruma Miura really can act humble when their fans are expecting them to be a “love interest”).
There are complications because another girl covets our pop star and resorts to rumour-mongering to drive a wedge between Sawako and her support group. Initially this succeeds, but there comes a point when even someone as withdrawn as Sawako has to open her mouth to defend her friends. With the ice broken, we come into the third act as all the loose ends are tied up. Even the class teacher gets a moment to redeem himself. In the scenes as the credits scroll, Ryu and Chizuru finally exchange bits of their buns (that’s deeply symbolic, of course) and Sawako’s parents celebrate the fact their child did not commit suicide and may have made the match of the century with Golden Boy).
So here’s the best way of looking at this film. It’s a bit of a weepy and, having started off with a cruel premise, then proceeds to allow almost everyone involved to emerge better people. This reflects two notions: that sooner or later, essential goodness will get its own reward, and that friendship is a vital first step to mature long-lasting relationships. From Sawako’s point of view, life was a lion that had her by the throat and was slowly ripping the life out of her. She had a kitchen knife in her hand, but never dared even think of using the knife until she found friends to remind her what knives are for. Some may think the screenplay by Rika Nezu is a little too slow-moving but, when you consider the damage done to Sawako, it’s always going to be a struggle for her to rejoin the human race. Naoto Kumazawa as director captures the world of the school and its casual cruelty well. Yes, From Me To You or Kimi ni Todoke is a tear-jerker, but even a hardened cynic like me found Sawako’s fight for life inspiring.