I recently asked my colleagues at Toho Kingdom for their recommendations for romantic Toho films to watch on or around Valentine’s Day. Now I realize that here at Toho Kingdom we don’t really focus a lot on the Toho romance films, of which there are many—and even when we do review them, sometimes they are pretty awful (I am looking at you, Clover and Blue Spring Ride). Still, for lovey-dovey movie fans, there are many Toho movies worth watching that will tickle the old heart strings—and maybe a few that have monsters in them, too!
Nicholas Driscoll’s Picks
Recommended Animated Romance—Whisper of the Heart (1995)
Okay, the title is majorly cheesy (the English title, anyway—the Japanese title actually translates to something like “If you listen closely”), but this Ghibli movie is one of my favorite Japanese films of all time. Based on a fairly obscure shojo manga and a script by Hayao Miyazaki, Whisper of the Heart tells the story of a junior high girl named Shizuku who loves creative writing and challenges herself to write an original fantasy novel telling the adventures of “the Baron,” a cat statuette at a local antique shop. In the process, she makes a lot of friends and falls in love with a local boy who has big dreams of his own. I don’t want to go into the plot details too much, but suffice to say there is a lot to love as the characters are well-drawn and exceedingly loveable, the romance bits are very sweet, and I just love a good story about creative expression and the sacrifices that have to be made to do it well. Plus it’s a Ghibli movie, so it has beautiful animation! This is also the only Ghibli movie with a movie-length spin-off sequel, The Cat Returns. I can’t recommend the sequel as much, but the original is an excellent movie, whether you like romance or not. (And for those looking for more animated Ghibli romance after finishing Whisper of the Heart, I also can recommend From Up On Poppy Hill
Recommended Dance Romance—Shall We Dance? (1996)
Many romance films also feature dancing in the plot, which is a big plus for me since I love a good turn on the dance floor. This particular dance flick even spawned a Hollywood remake, which is pretty rare for Japanese romance films. The story, about a repressed Japanese family man and office worker Shohei struggling in the doldrums who glimpses a hot babe Mai in a dance studio window and takes up ballroom dancing as a means to chase her and gets more than he bargained for, has many whimsical moments and some big laughs. The romance elements I think are understated and a bit lacking to be honest, though, as our “hero” sort of makes things right with his wife, but their relationship is pretty much sidelined for the Shohei/Mai one. For those looking for a more romantic take, the Hollywood version I think is a decent replacement. However, THIS film inspired a real romance between the director and the Tamiyo Kusakari, the ballet dancer playing Mai, which ended in marriage!
Recommended Supernatural Romance—My Tomorrow, Your Yesterday
I almost gave this spot to The Girl in the Sunny Place, but I already wrote a review of that movie (which I do recommend, as it is a pretty and surprisingly engrossing little film), so I want to give a little attention to another film by the same director, Miki Takahiro: My Tomorrow, Your Yesterday. I will be giving some spoilers to the film here, though those spoilers are kind of given away by the title itself. The movie is about college student Takatoshi, who falls in love with Emi upon noticing her on a train. He works up the guts to tell her his feelings, and soon after they start going out. But Emi has a huge secret, which, when it comes out, hugely complicates their love—she is from the future, in a sense. It’s a bit hard to explain, but basically she lives her life backwards in time and already has memories of their romance together when she first meets Takatoshi. While upon even short reflection the story doesn’t make a lot of sense, it is interesting to see how it all plays out in the highly imaginative universe of the film.
Recommended Live-Action Adaptation of a Manga—Your Lie in April
I have reviewed a number of live-action manga romance films, including the aforementioned howlers Clover (2014) and Blue Spring Ride, but also some pretty good flicks like the two Nana films. I am a sucker for these live-action adaptations, and often watch them even though they are often bad. One of the best I have seen (and which I had intended to review) was Your Lie in April. I had first watched the anime version of this story and enjoyed it very much, so then I became curious about the movie version, not least of all because it featured Suzu Hirose (probably my favorite current young female actress in Japan) in a lead role. I think the movie version works pretty well because the story is not really so complicated, but still deals with some heavy themes and has great music. The story centers on Kosei Arima, a teenager who is a virtuoso on the piano—but who has absolutely sworn off playing because of his awful relationship with his domineering mother. However, Kosei soon meets a free-spirited violinist named Kaori who bullies him into performing with her on stage and facing his demons, and he begins to fall in love with her. Of course things can’t go so simply, and Your Lie in April does suffer from several common romance tropes that occur frequently in Japanese chick flicks, but again the story is well-paced, the actors are good, and the music is beautiful.
Patrick Galvan’s Picks
My recommendation is not likely to surprise anyone even remotely familiar with my tastes in classic Toho movies. I’ve written at length about the great director Mikio Naruse over the last couple of years, devoting reviews and whole articles to his work, so I guess it’s only expected that I would salute one of his movies in today’s Valentine’s Day article. 1967’s Two in the Shadow, better known as Scattered Clouds (the literal translation of its Japanese title), was the last movie Naruse shot before his death in 1969; it was the second or third film of his I saw but the first which really impressed me; and to this day, I tend to pick this film above all others in naming my personal favorite from his oeuvre.
It’s also one of the most beautiful movies about tragic love I’ve ever seen. The premise is one that might sound like setup for forced contrivances (a man falls in love with the woman whose husband he accidentally killed) but Naruse and scenarist Nobuo Yamada treat it in the smartest possible manner, allowing the relationship between the characters to develop slowly, naturally, and believably—and they never allow them, or the audience, to forget the tragedy that binds them together. Yuzo Kayama and Yoko Tsukasa are perfectly cast as the leads, and the location photography of Aomori Prefecture renders this one of the most gorgeous-looking movies in Toho’s catalogue. Naruse was notorious for despising color in film, declaring it a needless distraction (the dream project he never got to realize was a black-and-white movie in which all the drama unfolded before a blank curtain) but he and cinematographer Yuzuru Aizawa use color and their settings to their advantage here.
Seeing Two in the Shadow has been a bit problematic as, like many Naruse films, it’s never been given a bona fide disc release in the Region 1 market. Criterion has a streaming-only print which has switched platforms a couple of times, and access to it disappeared completely with the demise of Filmstruck last November. Thankfully, the film is destined to return on April 8 through Criterion’s new, forthcoming streaming service. And I remain hopeful that, one day, the company will consider giving this quiet little gem a physical release of some capacity. A bonus feature-packed Blu-ray might be hard to justify given Naruse’s obscurity, but Two in the Shadow would make an ideal entry in one of their Eclipse boxsets.
Say, Late Naruse, with titles such as Lonely Lane (1962), A Woman’s Life (1963), Yearning (1964), and The Stranger Within a Woman (1966) serving as companion pieces.
Marcus Gwin’s Picks
I cannot say that I watch a lot of romantic films, as I find many of the films built around such a narrative to be try-hard corporate hack fests that try to manipulate one’s emotions to get positive reception rather than genuinely creating a well crafted tale of two people coming together. Besides, how can one even build an entire film around such a thing? People always have more going on in their lives than just a romantic relationship, so I find it more realistic to include such themes as a sub plot in part of larger narrative. That’s just my opinion though. But from my views, it’s obviously a very hard sell to invest me in any kind of romance. So if I actually recommend something, that means that I hold it to a very high regard. That being said though, I definitely don’t know enough romance films to make any kind of full list, so I’ll be partaking in some genre hoping mischief… even with my free Kaiju pick.
Most Romantic Kaiju Film: This one is a pretty easy pick. Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla (2002), has an excellent unlikely romance between a down on his luck extremely average single dad trying to impress a military pilot in the Kiryu program that is obviously WAY out of his league. I absolutely LOVE the awkward confidence shown by scientist (INSERT NAME) which absolutely comes off as creepy, but through persistence and actually trying to understand Akane, he eventually gets a date. The two have great chemistry, and their interactions serve as a very important way to flesh out the characters throughout the plot. Easily the best use of romance in a Kaiju film in my opinion.
#2 Densha Otoko: Okay, this is pretty much the only actual ROMANCE I’ve seen from Toho… I was forced to watch it in a class I was taking at the time. Apparently, it became something of a cultural icon at the time of its release… I don’t really care about that, and I wouldn’t even say its a particularly great movie. HOWEVER. I don’t think it’s a bad movie either. The plot follows a forever-alone shut-in that winds up protecting a woman on a train from a drunken bum, and ends up getting her number. He then proceeds to get romantic advice from two-chan degenerates. Yeah, this film is rather dated. Anyway, despite the fact that I don’t especially care for the film, I can definitely see why many people do. There definiteky WERE a couple moments I genuinely liked in the film. (None of which were during the climax…). This is the sort of film where I can say, “I didn’t like it, but you might.” That’s how I would recommend it.
#1 Sweet Home: It strikes again! I can use this movie for EVERY article, haha! In all seriousness though, one of the things in this movie that absolutely warms my heart is how it handles romance. I really don’t want to spoil this one, so all I’ll say is that all of the performances are spot-on, and the chemestry between each character enhances the plot, and greatly increases the tension to a boiling point. Past relationships are already a key theme in this film, and as I’ve mentioned many times, the ending is SATISFYING.
With warm regards, have a happy Valentines Day.
Tyler Trieschock’s Recommendations
Recommended Anime Romance – Your Name
For an engaging, comedic, emotional journey to enjoy this Valentine’s Day with your significant other look no further than Japanese classic from Makota Shinkai known as Your Name.
Starting off the film with two characters set in distinctly foreign environments, the film grabs your attention immediately with its introduction of the main leads, Mitsuha and Taki. Each long for more than they find in their rural and urban lives respectively, wanting nothing more than to break free of the challenges their routinely faced with. Fate not only gives them a chance to do just this, but at something I dare not spoil in my recommendation. What I can definitely say is you and your significant other may shed a collective tear at the film’s conclusion, and to cleanse your respective film pallet look no further than my second recommendation.
Recommended Kaiju Romance – Rodan (1956)
Tyler, you speak aloud as you read this article, Rodan (1956) isn’t a romance. How does it relate to Valentines Day? Well to you avid reader, I would say that in all relationships, being able to subvert your significant other’s expectations is a worthwhile aspiration and this movie is the perfect choice to achieve such a goal.
Easily one of Toho’s greatest early Kaiju films, Rodan holds aspects of every genre within its hour and a half run time for you and your significant other to enjoy. Hold your other close as the monstrous insect’s shadow distorts across the eerie, dimly lit mineshaft. Laugh in unison as the Meganulon makes its presence known and runs like a looney toons character onto and then down the nearby mountain. Shake in suspense as Shigeru recalls the horrifying creature he watched come to life within the mountain before the aerial monster, and its mate, embark on a destructive rampage across Japan until their untimely deaths by nature’s fury.
As was mentioned earlier, Rodan isn’t a love story, but its conclusion is one of tragedy formed from the connection of the two aerial terrors. It’s a silent, gripping scene that reinforces how far love in all of our lives can take us and it alone justifies the film’s recommendation this holiday. Just please avoid taking your significant other to any volcanos this Valentine’s Day!