Last week, the Asian Film Festival of Dallas screened Kimi ni Todoke, billed as From Me to You. As the film was based on a shoujo manga, I figured I could grab a couple of girl friends to come check it out. It turned out to be the perfect girls’ day out movie.
In a way, Kimi ni Todoke is a typical popular guy-meets-shy girl story. Sawako Kuwanuma (Mikako Tabe) grew up with the misfortune of looking like Sadako from the horror film Ringu. She is actually a sweet young girl, but her social anxiety gives her a dour appearance. Her classmates ostracize her until the beginning of her first year in high school when she meets Shota Kazehaya (Haruma Miura), a guy who gets along with all his peers. Through kindness and some help from the tomboyish Chizuru Yoshida (Misako Renbutsu) and trendy Ayane Yano (Natsuna), Kazehaya is able to teach Sawako the meaning of friendship and love while learning a few important lessons himself.
Kimi ni Todoke, however, is a lot deeper than your typical teenage romance. Sawako’s metamorphosis is gradual, and there is no makeover scene even if a simple haircut may have prevented years of isolation. The resemblance of Sadako of Ringu and the students’ belief that Sawako causes curses are an exaggeration of the kind of bullying kids endure in real life just because they look and/or act a bit different. Kazehaya sees Sawako’s beauty from day one, and scenes inside the Kuronuma home show the cheerful girl Sawako could have been. As she gains more confidence, her face becomes less obscured, indicating that change has to start from within.
Much of the movie is about how appearances are deceiving. Ayane and Chizuru themselves become targets of bullying due to their refusal to conform (both girls have dyed hair and wear their uniform differently) and their association with Sawako. Chizuru’s childhood friend Ryu (Haru Aoyama) proves to be more than just a quiet jock who can’t remember names, and the seemingly perfect Kazehaya still makes mistakes. While Sawako remains mostly a victim of misunderstanding, she too erroneously misjudges her friends.
For a movie that crams about multiple volumes of the manga (or one season of the anime), Kimi ni Todoke is rather slow. It fits the easy-going mood and subdued colors though. The characters are at a point in their lives where they can drift through the days with few worries. Sawako and Kazehaya’s relationship also plods along, which may frustrate some. However, given Sawako’s lack of prior social interaction, she does not expect romance; she doesn’t even expect Chizuru and Ayane to actually consider her a friend.
The film’s slow pacing actually plays a key role in lessons the characters must learn about timing. Chizuru experiences a missed opportunity while Kazehaya rushes into things too quickly. Prior to the climactic scene, Sawako’s father (Masanobu Katsumura) teaches her that there are times when one must drop everything and seize the moment, and that moment changes one’s life.
Seeing Haruma Miura in a more cheerful, boy-next-door type of role was refreshing. Although he does angsty rebels well, he has a charming smile that makes him extremely loveable (and major heartthrob material). Mikako Tabe was excellent as Sawako. She could have easily turned into a caricature, but her tears at even the smallest gesture are believable. Another stand-out actress was Misako Renbutsu, who balanced Chizuru’s tough girl exterior with her emotional moments. It was the adults whose portrayals were lackluster. Arata could have toned down his ridiculous antics to be a more believable teacher, and his nosiness was sometimes came off as a bit creepy. Masanobu Katsumura seemed to be unsure about whether Sawako’s father was overprotective or clueless, and he dropped both characteristics at the end. Overall, however, the acting did not disappoint.
Kimi ni Todoke is a trip down memory lane for older audiences. It brings back the pleasant and painful experiences of high school, unrequited and first loves, and the journey of finding one’s place in the world among friends. For me, it was a reflection of how I was brought out of my own shell through the kindness of others and a reminder that compassion really goes a long way.
Listening to: “Heart of Glass” by U