Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Eiga Sai's 'How to Become Myself': A film review

MANILA, Philippines – When one mentions 'movies targeted for girls,' the immediate genre in mind would be romance. But How to Become Myself veers away from this and instead, narrates a story on dysfunctional families, on knowing the self, and on keeping friends regardless of distance—with the help of modern technology.

Based on a book by Mado Kaori, How to Become Myself is one of the movie offerings for the 2010 Eiga Sai, a Japanese film festival hosted by the Japan Foundation.

The plot: For Juri Sugitani (Riko Narumi), there are three types of students: the popular ones like class representative Kanako Hanada (Atsuko Maede), the bullied girls, and the “neither” ones like her.

Juri looks up to Kanako and wants to be in her place. A week after, Kanako became the bullied girl and stayed cramped in the “fake her” until Junior High. By then, Juri managed to become one of the favorite girls in school.

When she heard Kanako moved to another prefecture, Juri remembered a conversation on graduation day and contacted Kanako through e-mail, hoping she can make Kanako a popular girl in her new school. Kanako did whatever Juri said and they became Kotori and Hina, two fictional friends Juri used as inspiration for her literary club writing requirements. But as the short story ended, Kanako began to question who she is while Juri struggled from her parents’ divorce.

The characters: Juri (Kotori) and Kanako (Hina) are mirror-images of each other, both undergoing the challenge of fitting in a society, making their families happy, and knowing themselves and what they want.

The treatment: Targeted at young adults, the narration is diary-like and the visuals change every so often to keep attention. Split screens and fade-to-blacks are common, not to mention bath scenes. Messages exchanged between the lead characters are written on screen for the viewers.

It offered advices for every girl, from being popular in a new school to going on dates to maintaining a relationship. The advices were hilarious, especially the scene where Juri (as Kotori) scanned through shoujo tankoubons (girl comics) for dating guides and even told Kanako what to say or order.

At some point, I felt like watching an animated girl’s movie or a one-season anime series with a lingering fleeting feel. Jun Ichikawa’s film explores the definition of self in a more psychological, tranquil, insightful, and very verbal manner.

Scenes to remember: The conversation in the library after graduation was dreamy but good. Viewers get to hear the gloomy but ironic line from notable Japanese fictionist Ozamu Dazai: "You’re a good liar, so at least do the right thing." For someone who has been exposed to Japanese works on the psyche, the conversation might come as a little common and obvious.

The whole phase when Juri was writing her short story on Kotori and Hina are entertaining, especially since Kanako had been doing what Hina did. The advices are funny but sweet. Some of these advices are: “Karaoke is good. The closed space is good in building friendships”, “Put pink nail polish and spread the love bug in school”, “Go to school early and bring extra food to share with your friends”.

The scene where the two finally talk in person is a little overdone but it’s also touching.

The problem: It’s a little too long, the story going around a little aimlessly. It’s like a young girl's guide to life. And like all guidebooks, you enjoy it at the beginning and pretty much lack interest as it nears the end. The title pretty much sums up the story.

The verdict: The movie might not attract the male crowd—I don’t think they could relate, not that I’m dumbing them down or anything—but for ladies my age, it’s a wistful remembrance of a time long ago, when we faced the toughest but overlooked rite of passage: looking for ourselves. Believe me, it’s not very easy.

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