Production Company: Destiny, “Koi wa maiorita” Seisaku Iinkai
Release: 17 May 1997
Format: 35 mm
Director: Hasegawa Yasuo
Producers: Taki Yoshikuni, Maejima Yoshiyuki
Screenplay: Iida Kenzaburo, Kitagawa Yasuhiko
Original story: Yukawa Kazuhiko
Photography: Yada Yukio
Art Direction: Nakazawa Katsumi
Editing: Okuhara Yoshiyuki
Kanzaki Keiichiro: Karasawa Toshiaki
Machiko: Esumi Makiko
The Angel: Tamaki Koji
‘Tis the Season to Be Dopey
There’s always something pitifully absurd about a Japanese Christmas movie. It’s not just the fact that Christmas bells ring a little hollow in a non-Christian culture–it’s because the holiday’s cinematic celebration always comes up looking as shallow and as superficial as the consumeristic concoction Christmas in Japan is.
Koi wa maiorita (roughly translated as “Love Has Fallen”) is one film decked with borrowed yuletide iconography–angels, snowmen and Christmas trees, plus a few emblems from other foreign festivals–such as four leaf clovers–thrown in for extra decoration.
Its story reflects this rather kitschy taste in design. Kanzaki (Karasawa Toshiaki), a cynical, world-weary gigolo, suddenly dies one day in a car accident, only to find out it was not really his turn. It seems an angel (Tamaki Koji) made a mistake and offed him before his time. To earn his way back to life, Kanzaki must first, with the use of four wishes, make a forlorn tomboy named Machiko (Esumi Makiko) truly happy by midnight on Chistmas Eve. The wizardly womanizer thinks this will be a piece of cake, but achieving happiness in the end seems as difficult as coming back from the dead.
There’s a nice (but trite) moral here, but we’ve seen it and this movie before: Here Comes Mr. Jordan, Heaven Can Wait, Cinderella, A Christmas Carol, It’s a Wonderful Life–and a dozen other Hollywood flicks from days old and new. Originality is not a virtue to be found in this movie.
OK, there’s nothing unusual in filmdom about plundering and pillaging from other movies–Hollywood does it all the time. Some of the funner 1960s Japanese flicks are in fact blatant copies of American westerns and spy movies.
But such plagiarism works if it’s done with: a) a bit of tongue-in-cheek wit; b) a craftsmanship representative of the old studio system; or c) a film cultural background where all of this makes sense.
With Koi wa maiorita, however, it’s d) none of the above.
In his first feature film, Hasegawa Yasuo’s direction is flashy but sophomoric, remaining as predictable as it is shallow. Karasawa, Makiko, and Tamaki could all probably do better, but can’t sink their teeth into characters about as deep as a crepe.
It’s the material that’s to blame. The “original story” (that’s a laugh) by Yukawa Kazuhiko and the script by Iida Kenzaburo and Kitagawa Yasuhiko just haphazardly slap together plot devices pilfered from other pictures in hopes of getting cheap and easy emotional responses, without ever thinking of those small things like consistency, motivation, or other essentials they should have learnt in Scriptwriting 101.
They and Hasegawa are from the world of TV, and thus Koi wa maiorita looks like a wayward trendy drama that mistakenly found itself on the silver screen without the additional budget. And worse yet, in the middle of May, with no seasonal cheer to prop it up.
Everything in this film is out of place. But then again, that’s true of Japanese Christmas, too. You have to admit that, for all the absurdities of Nippon Noel, today’s youth, with their Komuro CDs and taste for American movies, are Western wanna-bes with little sense of identity as “Japanese.” They might actually like Koi wa maiorita if it appeared on it’s home world of television. But at least it’s free there. Pity the poor soul who pays �1800 to see this pap.
Reviewed by Aaron Gerow
Originally appeared in The Daily Yomiuri, 15 May 1997, p. 9.
Copyright 1997: The Daily Yomiuri and Aaron Gerow