Archive for November 11th, 2012

How To Become Myself (2007)

Juri on the surface looks to be a happy girl – both at home and at junior high. But this facade is only a front to show the outside world and her classmates that everything is OK with her family life. The truth of the matter is Juri’s family is crumbling apart. She hates hearing her parents constantly argue and a divorce is on the cards. She’s got a wide circle of friends at school who think she’s a cool person. Juri secretly admires her classmate Kanako as she is popular in their class. Juri would love to become just like her. Suddenly though, due to a disagreement in a student meeting, Kanako finds her position in class plummeting from that of the popular girl to that of one everybody ignores. Juri notices this and becomes concerned but she can’t be seen to talk with her openly or she would be criticised by her friends. Just before both girls graduate from junior high they share a poignant conversation together in the school library. A bond is sealed between them. 2 years later and Juri is now in high school and she hears on the grapevine that Kanako has moved out of the area due to the bullying she was receiving. She manages to get her mobile phone email address and sends her a message. Juri is surprised when Kanako doesn’t seem to remember Juri or the conversation they had at the school library. Thus begins a series of messages that is sent back and forth between the pair with Juri telling a story about a girl called Hina who becomes popular through some advice. Kanako adopts the persona of Hina and finds her life turning for the better. But is Kanako really happy about adopting a fake persona again?

What a great movie about what it means to understand yourself as a person and becoming comfortable with it. All of us plays different roles in different situations depending on the people we encounter. We put on masks in which we adopt perhaps a different persona. Maybe a person who is seen to be very outgoing and happy in public but in reality they could be so unhappy. In playing these various roles, how often do you stop and think who is the real you? Who is this person that you are portraying to other people. Should you stop acting and be honest to these people about who you really are? This movie tackles these issues in such a brilliant way through the 2 main characters. It’s worse when you’re a teenager at school as you either fit in and play the role expected of you or be cast out. Juri doesn’t want to be cast out, in fact she fears her true uncool self coming out so she tries to hide her real persona as best as she can. It’s not at school where she has to play a role either as she tries to hold her family together and be the perfect daughter in front of her parents. In her mind she thinks that by doing this it will stop her parents ever worsening relationship from dissolving completely.

Director Jun Ichikawa isn’t a candidate you would feel that would be best suited to handling a movie about teenage high school girls. Released a year before his death in 2008, he was in his late 50’s when he directed this movie yet somehow he understands the problems that Juri and Kanako are going through and creates a very sensitive and realistic story about them. It’s a skillfully crafted movie which immerses you in the captivating storyline. There’s a slow and deliberate pace about the movie and I really liked the split screen effect and onscreen graphics of the mobile phone messages that both girls are sending to each other showing the distance between them. Ichikawa also loves showing shots of cityscapes and clouds in the sky between transition scenes which I thought was unique.

The characters of Juri and Kanako are well acted by 2 fledgling actresses at the time. Riko Narumi whom I have seen before in Crime And Punishment and also in Yamagata Scream is excellent as Juri. She’s a character who has her own set of problems to sort out with her family yet she feels compelled to help her friend out in order she can re-establish her life again. Former AKB48 member Atsuko Maeda was very surprising as Kanako. This was her movie debut. Maeda is a bit hit and miss with her acting but in this movie she hits all the right spots and gives a fantastic performance as the unhappy and bullied Kanako. Some of her former AKB48 teammates are given blink and you’ll miss cameos.

Even though the movie was targeted towards teenage girls, I think the story’s message about finding your true self and your place in society when you’re young can be enjoyed by everybody. It’s a very good movie all round. Recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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