On my flight to Honolulu a fews weeks ago (which strangely feels like a lifetime ago…), I had the pleasure of watching Hidamari no Kanojo (also known in English as Girl In The Sunny Place) starring yupkigirl‘s favorite Matsumoto Jun and my favorite Ueno Juri.
When I was in Tokyo last August, the promotion for this movie was rife – the posters were literally everywhere, and I caught its trailer multiple times in music/movie stores. Without realizing it, my anticipation for the movie grew, so imagine my surprise when I noticed that Hidamari no Kanojo was offered in Hawaiian Airline’s pay-per-view movie selections! I don’t think I’ve ever swiped my debit card so eagerly as I did that morning haha (though at $8, it’s the price of a movie ticket, so fair enough). I think the international sphere has yet to watch the movie since I don’t think it’s available on DVD yet and as of this write-up, so I figured it would be nice to write a few words about it.
Adapated from the novel of the same title by Osamu Koshigaya, when I first read the plot it honestly sounded like every Japanese coming-of-age love story out there: boy and girl have A Thing in high school but lose touch over the years, only to reconnect as adults and naturally, love blossoms once more. In Hidamari no Kanojo‘s case, the reunion actually led to marriage (no, I’m not spoiling anything – this bit is in the official description of the movie!) but happily ever after? Of course not! The catch is, she harbors a secret that no one, especially not him, knows. Dum-di-dum.
If you’re familiar with Korean and Japanese movies/dramas – especially Korean – 99% of the time that secret-something is a life-threatening disease (cue groans and eye-rolling of been there, done that). So I’ll be honest – even though I kept an open mind and reckon the big secret in this movie isn’t cancer or amnesia, a teeny weeny part of me did snicker at the possibility, as if all ready to go, “See, what did I tell you!”
Luckily, it’s not – and that’s about as far as I’ll say, without spoiling anything further.
What I will say is… the secret is… at least in my case, unexpected. Can’t decide if it’s in a good or bad way cos frankly until now, I’m still not all that sure, but I’m happy to report that this plot twist and discovery did not butcher the tone and feel of the movie overall. In fact, it provided a fuller scope, though I also suspect you either buy it or you don’t. One could argue that the turning point was trivial and required some(plenty) bend in logic, but if Akai Ito and Koizora, both of which stretched logic by a long mile and still made it (like crazy) in Japan’s box office, I think we’re fine here. At least for me, unlike the two movies which I literally rolled my eyes at upon the discovery of the plot twists, I actually like and genuinely enjoyed this one.
Hidamari no Kanojo‘s greatest strength lies in the cinematography, hands down. This movie is gorgeous, breathtaking, take-my-breath-away beautiful, ah-ma-zing – you get the picture. It was a feast, complete royal delight, for the eyes. Told through the lenses of the same director who gave us the equally poignant We Were There two-part movie (which I greatly enjoyed), I’m not surprised. He told the story of Hidamari no Kanojo in pastel, complementing the outfits of our leading couple with the spring-summery feel of the show. Amazing, and so wonderfully done. The soft pastel tone set amidst the backdrop of late winter and early spring contrasted with ever-bustling Tokyo, aptly set the stage both viscerally and visually for us, the audience, as we’re slowly but surely led into the life of Matsumoto Jun‘s endearing character, Okuda Kosuke. He’s your typical twenty-something “just coasting through my life” kind of guy who’s kind-hearted, though rather awkward. Thanks to his job as an employee in the PR/marketing department of the company that owns the railway lines, he (re)crossed path with Ueno Juri‘s Watarai Mao.
I love Ueno Juri, you’re all aware of that, but I honestly can’t say if she challenged herself and her acting here, and gave us something we haven’t seen before. Don’t get me wrong – what we’ve seen of her thus far aren’t anything terrible; she does quirky, otherworldly so damn well, and she did so again here. What separates Mao from her iconic Nodame is how grounded the former is. Mao’s past is murky, and even though the show did take us back to their teenage years of innocent love and friendship, it’s never really made explicit. We’re given fragments to piece together and eventually arrived at the truth, but the full image is still, more or less, open to interpretation.
Of course this needs to be discussed – the chemistry between the two. Was it palpable? Did I sense an extra something-something, the sort that makes the romance extra-believable offscreen? Here’s my take – their chemistry’s definitely palpable, but unfortunately, nothing groundbreaking. Again, nothing bad, but my quick advice is to not over-expect because if you do, then you’ll definitely come out feeling disappointed. One might argue that the absence of chemistry is due to the tone and overall feel of the movie – it’s really more introspective than anything else – but I think it’s just the way they are with each other. They seem… very friendly? Literally, like good ol’ friends vibe and ease. I hesitate to call it sibling-like so I won’t, and on-screen they really were cute together. Plus, it’s so endearing and moving, just how in love their characters were – there’s a kind of tenderness to their care and lovin’ towards each other, which aligned so well with the overall feel of the movie and undoubtedly, packed a punch at the moment of discovery.
In the end, when I watch a movie – which isn’t often and okay, less and less these days – it’s this question that I’ll ask myself: did I enjoy it? Followed by, was it worth it? Fortunately where Hidamari no Kanojo is concerned, the answer to both questions is a solid yes. Hidamari no Kanojo turned out to be rather low-key in its storytelling and tonally, I’d peg it as being somewhere between coming-of-age and (early) adulthood skepticism. Basically, if you’re anticipating rainbows and unicorns – don’t, stop right there. However, the show is surprisingly, tonally insightful, and a total delight to watch. In fact, you know what’s even more surprising? How much emotional resonance it’s able to undo, long after the credits roll.
The girl in the sunny place is a gem of a title, because it encapsulates Mao so perfectly and thus, the movie itself. Watch it for the visceral and visual experience, if nothing else. Plus oh, Tetsuji Tamayama!
PS A quick blurb about Matsumoto Jun‘s acting here – I have always thought that he has way more talent in acting than singing, ahem, and while I can’t confirm if he truly stretched his acting chops here, I really enjoyed watching him play a meek and gullible character. Kosuke is endearing, and it’s cute to see a bumbling Matsumoto Jun for a change (as opposed to the too-cool-for-school norm). He definitely could’ve picked a more solid and intense project if his intentions were to expand his acting niche, but on the flip side, I’m glad he took this on! It’s the perfect movie to spend (just) two hours over a lazy weekend, on a bright spring or summer day!
PPS Signing off with this lovely (short) PV of the soundtrack, sung by the amazing Tatsuro Yamashita.