Manga live-action? check.
High school romance? check.
Cool popular guy? check.
Cute sheepish girl? check.
Ore Monogatari!! (My Love Story!!) ticks enough boxes of detracting elements that generally speaking may not work for me. Add to that my recent encounter with j-movie from similar genre. I really have a bad luck with Japanese teen romance — or j-romance in general — that i should’ve learned my lesson and sworn off such projects… and let’s not discuss why i gave this one a go (the reasons would be repetitive), but let me say if after sitting through a string of terrible ones i came across a good one like this, few and far between notwithstanding, how can i stop?
Well, the above checklist isn’t entirely true. Ore Monogatari!! doesn’t sound like the typical teen romance out there mainly because the cool popular guy isn’t the leading guy of the story. It’s more Beauty and the Beast than Cinderella so to speak. Also because it’s more comedic than romantic. That’s why i’m hesitant to call it a rom-com (hence the bracketed “rom” part below).
The handsome bloke is Sunakawa Makoto (Sakaguchi Kentaro), one half of this peculiar ikemen/gorilla combi, the buddy of the thankless hero, Gouda Takeo (Suzuki Ryohei). The stark contrast plays a part in magnifying their respective visuals that on one glance, it’s easy to view Suna more favorably. Girls would flock around him, including the one Takeo is crushing on. But, like any other kakkoii ikemen manga character, Suna is a bit too aloof. Takeo argues that he is smart and personable, only cold toward girls. Hmm.
Takeo, however, has the biggest heart despite the gorilla-like appearance (square face, bushy sideburns, big tall built, amazing strength, growling voice). He never harbors hard feelings toward Suna for rejecting his crush. He also readily jumps to anyone’s rescue, takes no credit for the deed, or corrects bystanders for mistaking his intention, the rescuee included. The last bit certainly makes for a hilarious sequence, e.g. that scene wherein he swims toward a drowning kid at such a fast speed and jumps out to reach him, only to scare the poor kid off and end up looking as if he’s bullying the boy. Naturally, it is the gallant tendencies that lead him to save the heroine, Yamato Rinko (Nagano Mei).
Despite his doomed history with girls, Takeo falls in love a bit too easily. Such is the case with him liking Yamato almost instantly, thanks to a single bright smile. It may be a one-time crush if Yamato doesn’t show up at his school to properly introduce herself and bring a cake as a thank you… at which he blurts out “suki da“. This statement, which would quickly become the film’s catchphrase as well as running gag, could mean “i like it” but in this case it means “i like you.” While it is obvious that the cake was baked for him, the moment she asks if he has a girlfriend, his face falls, thinking the question is meant for Suna sitting next to him.
So, there goes the plot of the movie: for Takeo to realize it’s him whom Yamato has eyes for. It’s as simple as that yet is made difficult due to misperception. First off, history has taught him that most girls like Suna so the default assumption is Yamato is no different. Plus, the situation does point in that direction: her throwing the question while stealing glances at Suna (most probably because she’s too shy to look at Takeo). The impression persists as she continues to bake more desserts for the duo to taste, which follows the same formula: Takeo would take a bite and gush about how good it is, at which Yamato would beam, whose brightness would overwhelm him and make him exclaim “SUKI DAAAAA~!!” while overthrowing his judo sparring partner. This lather, rinse, repeat sequence lasts for a while that i wonder if the boys would get diabetes from all of those sweets. Ha.
[Ending spoilers] Nevertheless, the proverb of “the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach” truly does work in this case: Takeo only falls deeper for her as he’s playing cupid to her and Suna. The nonexistent love triangle was so easily fixable since the beginning and shouldn’t have lasted the entire movie if any of them were quick on the uptake. But they’re all teenagers, and neither is assertive or straightforward enough, in addition to their oblique conversations, that i can only wonder how long the misunderstanding would last, and what would break it to either of them.
Takeo is helplessly dense while Yamato is relatively demure that i expected Suna to step up to the plate. The ikemen has been single too, yet perceptive, though he seems to leave it to his buddy to put two and two together. It’s just that Takeo’s denseness is so chronic i doubt he would ever be able to, on his own. I could thus breathe a sigh of relief when Suna finally pushes him in the right direction. He’s probably as fed up with dude’s obliviousness as we viewers by then. The reveal was cute, especially since everybody but the big guy knows about Yamato’s feelings.
The extended push and pull never frustrated me, fortunately. The interaction was cute and the love story innocent it’s easy to enjoy the awkward, funny, and adorable relationship and overlook the plotholes. Honestly, it’s a waste to get worked up over the little things cuz this live-action is a mindless watch that’s unexpectedly amusing.
Suzuki Ryohei is undoubtedly too old to play a highschooler, but the fact that Takeo was depicted to look way older than his age kinda offsets the casting. I believe he wasn’t miscast albeit not familiar with the original material. He’s perfectly believable and committed embodying this campy character that his quirks seemed natural to me. Nagano Mei played a heroine that would totally irk me on paper, so she definitely did a fine job when i found her portrayal of Yamato likable. Now i know it’s mostly the acting and not the writing that makes such characters off-putting. Sakaguchi Kentaro was stiff here (not everybody can pull off this stock role well, yunno), but he’s improved in his more recent projects.
Ore Monogatari!! offers a simple love story with few characters, yet ably capitalizes on it. Many said this production was low budget, and while the dramatic scenes did look tacky, the directional style was lovely. The performances might elevate the writing, but i can’t overlook the script quality. In the wrong hands, this could turn into a clichéd teen flick, but this screenwriter managed to come up with pleasing, focused, engaging plot, which might not be easy given its adaptation nature. And let’s say i wasn’t surprised to learn it’s Nogi Akiko behind the wheel. I loved her works in the past couple of years, all of which are (drama) adaptations, she may as well be my favorite Japanese screenwriter.
Oh, if you haven’t watched this movie, do NOT stop watching once the screen fades to black. There are more goodness shown during the closing credits — not the mention the hilarious epilogue at the very end. You certainly won’t want to miss those! ^^
Director: Kawai Hayato
Production: NTV, Toho, 2015
Cast: Suzuki Ryohei, Nagano Mei, Sakaguchi Kentaro, Suzuki Sawa, Terawaki Yasufumi
Genre: Teen (Romantic) Comedy, J-movie
am i the only who muses the possibility of Suna being gay after Takeo said he’s cold to girls and seeing how warm he is toward his buddy? 😂