Director: Takehiko Shinjo
Starring: Keiko Kitagawa, Osamu Mukai, Yusuke Yamamoto, Aya Omasa
Adapted to the screen from the manga and anime of the same name, Paradise Kiss the film has proven to be quite the success for Warner Bros. Japan. Earning high box office grosses locally, this Japanese film features young acting talent, high production value, and a solid if predictable story. Being unfamiliar with the original source but not unfamiliar with the creator’s work (Ai Yazawa of Nana fame), I had a bit of an idea what the film’s tone would be, that of an unsure girl finding her place in the world by joining up with outsiders to the status quo of Japanese conformity, in this case fashion designers. Not the typical action film I tend to watch with plans to review, but I suppose that makes my own perspective so surprising in the end.
Here’s what it is all about; high schooler Yukari Hayasaka is a student at an elite academy with college exams looming. She concedes that she isn’t the smartest, but makes up for it with hard work and a desire to live up to the expectations of her mother. Things aren’t all bad as she is friends with one of the most popular guys in school, Tokumori, and also her unrequited first love. Yukari finds herself struggling in her studies with plans to redouble efforts derailed when she is scouted as a model by members of Paradise Kiss, a conclave of students studying fashion and design. Led by George Koizumi, she is introduced to a world of beautiful dresses, creative people, and perhaps a new future apart from the path set by her parents and society.
The film features a generally large cast and each actor or actress does a respectable job. The characters have history with each other and each person is allowed their brief moment to reveal what’s underneath. I suspect that those familiar with the original source may find the inclusion of these moments with each character satisfying, especially if, like me, they tend to have interest in secondary characters. Surprising is Keiko Kitagawa in the lead, as her previous works in Japanese television had left me unconvinced that she was more than a pretty face. She puts on display a gamut of emotions that she wears on her face providing a nuanced performance, really impressive. The film is a polished production with good set design and exemplary costuming, a film about about fashion should have no less. The music appropriately features upbeat J-pop in scenes featuring the design and wearing of clothing and the typical piano and softer pieces in the more dramatic moments when characters reveal their histories and internal feelings. Of note is that Japanese musician YUI, a personal favorite of mine, provides both the title track and ending theme, a happy surprise since I was not expecting to hear her going into the film.
In conclusion, Paradise Kiss is a solid film that doesn’t really offer any surprises but does a good job in perpetuating popular cinema. The mainstream nature of the film is one by design, with the formula that goes into the ‘shoujo’ genre in full effect here. If you are willing to go into this film with that understanding, you may be surprised to find performances which go beyond the ‘beautiful people and beautiful clothes’ chick film stigma that advertisements for the film suggest.
You May Like This Film If You Are A Fan Of: The Nana live action films, Honey and Clover, and romance manga.