Review: Girl in the Sunny Place (2013)Review:
Girl in the Sunny Place (2013)
(4/5)
Author:
Nicholas Driscoll
Published:
September 2nd, 2016
Note: review may contain spoilers


One of the first things I noticed about Girl in the Sunny Place (sometimes translated as The Girl in the Sun), was the feel of the film, the slightly washed out dreamy warmth. That is, the movie itself feels awash in the rays of the sun. It fits the title, but it also glazes the film in a comfortable sweetness that compliments the surprisingly irresistible romance within. So often I have seen romance films in which the romance itself soured the film, even from this same director, Takahiro Miki, who also directed 2015’s Blue Spring Ride (which I despised, despite a similarly beautiful cinematography). Girl in the Sunny Place, however, provides two likable characters who visibly, earnestly care for each other—and that central relationship in the film, in my opinion, overcomes the clichés and a twist which could easily have killed the movie entirely.

Review: Girl in the Sunny Place (2013)The premise: Kosuke (Jun Matsumoto) works in sales, and seems to have a comfortable if rather dull life. Kosuke is an awkward kid, in his 20s, with a boss constantly yammering about his own failed loves, and Kosuke has no prospects for snuggly-warm romantical bliss—until a new sales job comes along from another company, and Mao (Juri Ueno) comes along with it. Kosuke and Mao have some history going back ten years before—they only lost track of each other with the advent of college and the inevitable separate roads they took. Both Kosuke and Mao are secretly delighted to have met again, though it takes some time before they begin showing their mutual affection. When they do let their feelings peek through, though, what starts as cute dates gushes forth into engagement and marriage. But Mao has a mysterious past—she was apparently abandoned as a child, and raised by a kind couple who take her in, and she suffers from amnesia. And this past, those secrets, will eventually come back to haunt their storybook romance.

I watched this movie on an airplane after suffering through S: The Last Policeman: Recovery of our Future (2015), and I really needed something sweet and good to recover from that stinker. Girl in the Sunny Place fit that prescription perfectly. First off, as mentioned above, the movie is beautifully shot, with a fantastic feel that captures the magic of mutual attraction. The characters, too, are just so sweet. Yes, they are somewhat clichéd—Kosuke is awkward and lovable, Mao is forward and energetic—but their relationship is more than their clichés. The movie takes its time to let the characters care for each other, to SHOW that they care for each other. They aren’t perfect people—they have problems and they love each other anyway. And the guy is not a complete emotionless robot monster face. That alone was a huge relief after seeing Blue Spring Ride (2015) and Clover (2015) last year.

Review: Girl in the Sunny Place (2013)

The acting, too, is nigh perfect for this kind of film. I am not familiar with Jun Matsumoto, but he nails slightly awkward like an ill-timed fart in an elevator, and when he’s in love with Mao, his face doesn’t look like a wooden plank. I have been a big fan of Juri Ueno since Swing Girls (2004), and she is at her adorable best here with her crazy hair, soft acceptance of Kosuke’s foibles, and energetic “seize-the-day” excitement about life that just boils over into her every action. The supporting characters, too, are for the most part quite good, albeit sometimes the coworkers seem a bit too much like archetypes on sticks. Still, the main thing is the mains, and they are fantastic here. As long as I am staying on a positive streak here, I want to also mention the music, which compliments the film like dark chocolate with peanut butter—they go together well and are oh-so-sweet, including what basically becomes the theme song, “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” by the flipping Beach Boys, man!

Then there is the twist. I want to discuss the twist because, when I realized where the movie was going, I… well, I want to discuss it below. However, I really think this movie is well-worth seeing WITHOUT spoilers, so you have been warned, my fine readers. You have been warned.

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Review: Girl in the Sunny Place (2013)When I first realized where the movie was going, I was stunned, and there was a moment where I had to consciously tell myself, “Who cares, this is such a sweet movie; in the end it doesn’t matter.” However, I think a lot of viewers, especially Western viewers, will find the twist a bit too much to take. Are you ready? Okay, here’s the thing: Mao is actually a cat who has been turned into a human being by a magical cat lady because she fell in love with boy-Kosuke when he rescued her (as a kitten) from death. However, even in human form, Mao only has the lifespan of a cat, and so their happiness together is fleeting—which is a common (even tiresome for me) theme in Japanese love stories. So, a cat falls in love with a man. That’s the plot. It sounds ridiculous, and it is, and yet it is also follows a long tradition of Asian storytelling in which animals (both evil and benevolent) transform and interact with or fall in love with human beings. I read a whole slew of these stories in the classic Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio by Pu Songling a few years ago (most of the animals were foxes, but not always), and Japan also has abundant transforming critters that harass unsuspecting humans (often foxes and tanuki). The Girl in the Sunny Place, which is based on a novel by Osamu Koshigaya, is taking that classic narrative trope and transplanting it into modern Japan, which I think is interesting if not entirely successful. We end up, too, with the way overused romantic trope in which the girl dang dies in the end, this time because cats don’t live as long as humans (though there is a twist there, too). I don’t personally like the twist that Mao is a cat, even with the literary precedents, but I think it’s interesting, and it certainly underscores the themes of treasuring time with loved ones and the transience of happiness which so often permeates Japanese films.

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Bottom line for me is this is a really strong romance film, really sweet, really fun to watch, beautifully shot, with good performances all around. Look, yes, the twist can come across pretty badly, and I think the film would have been stronger with a different secret, but the aforementioned twist ending somehow fits the whimsical tone of the film. If you get a chance, and you like romance films, I definitely recommend Girl in the Sunny Place.