I had my doubts that I would be able to see this film in theaters since I was seeing it the day after it came out. Still, I plowed my way through the throngs of Saturday-night couples, families with children, and the occasional pack of teenagers in order to just barely get the last seat for the last showing. Yeah… near Sendai station gets slammed for people looking for entertainment.
I was pleasantly surprised to see the handicapped seats occupied, as several wheelchair users were in the theater already. It really warmed my heart that there was a film, in Japan, with just… normal representation for them in romance. Or at least, that’s what I was hoping for since it was a manga adaptation.
“Perfect World” follows the story of Kawana Tsugumi (Sugisaka Hana), a young interior designers who pines a bit for the past. Through the offices of her interior design firm doing work with an architectural company where her high school senior, Ayukawa Itsuki (Iwata Takanori) works. Tsugumi is thrilled to be re-united with her former crush, only to find out that Itsuki is paralyzed from the waist down due to a bicycle accident during his college days.
Despite her friends remarking that ‘it’s such a shame, he’s so handsome’… Tsugumi decides to pursue both friendship, and eventually a relationship with Itsuki.
I appreciate some drama viewers trying to put the focus on Itsuki, whether it be for representation or because he’s played by Iwata Takanori, I can’t say, but that isn’t accurate. Itsuki for sure, is the main male lead in this story. We get very little insight to his thoughts, feelings or even his background and perspective, certainly not to the degree we get of Tsugumi’s. So if you’re looking for Itsuki to be the ‘true’ main character in this story, this isn’t it. It’s Tsugumi’s story and struggles to work for a love that many people would immediately give up.
That’s not to say that Tsugumi or Itsuki are weak characters or it’s a bad story. The emphasis, is on their relationship and the difficulties that come with having someone in a wheelchair as a partner. Everyday instances become not difficult, but handled differently then if it was a ‘normal’ couple. The movie actually does a fantastic job of highlighting these subtle differences, without slapping you upside the head with them.
Obviously, Itsuki’s perspective of the world is completely different then Tsugumi’s. At times, he remains steadfast and unwilling to change, he slowly opens up. The beautiful views in his architectural design blossom and show his passions in a way that mere words or actions can not.
I’m totally biased since I’m a huge Iwata Takanori (Gun-chan) fan, but he didn’t overact his character. I never once felt that he was pushing the narrative of ‘it’s so hard to be disabled!!! Pity my character!!!’ that occasionally and unintentionally leaks into film. I was a little hesitant about his casting, aside from him being pretty, but he’s grown a lot as an actor. We empathize with him. We want to hit him upside the head for not accepting help that’s offered, purely out of spite. He’s a likable, and well developed character.
Which leads to Tsugumi…. who when I remembered my scathing review of Sugasaki Hana’s performance in Blade of Immortal… I recoiled only slightly. Tsugumi is a completely different character and context for Hana so I gave her a benefit of the doubt.
I wasn’t blown away, but I think shojo/josei adaptations are probably more her forte. I really felt for Tsugumi, and her reactions to things. Tsugumi was agreeable, in the best sort of way. I could see myself befriending her character at the office and hanging out on our days off or something. Her coming off as a normal girl, rather then this super gorgeous celebrity really helped her performance and connect-ability.
I found the romance between the two leads believable but not spark flying worthy. Their relationship wasn’t one full of sparkles and roses, but practical. They fought about real things affecting their relationship, not stupid troupe-y things. Any time they were crying or in pain, you really felt it and understood why. Rather then this being a sugar-shojo that many, myself included, have come to suspect over the years; this was closer to real life. A very welcome, but certainly could be disappointing if you’re not expecting it.
I don’t have much to say on the directing or style of shots. It was well executed and certainly stirred the correct emotions with the right shots and music.
I know for certain that the manga has to delve deeper into Itsuki’s backstory since it’s more or less the abridged version in the movie. Obviously, this is understandable since we were there for the relationship and character development, not the entire re-telling of 8 volumes of manga.
Interestingly, Itsuki really does often bring up the under-talked about changes of being Sempai/kohai relationship to a romantic relationship. It was really subtle but any time, previous to Tsugumi making her feelings known, Itsuki would be quick to bring up their former status, as a way to get prying eyes off them. Not too many recent shojo’s have made a point of addressing it, and honestly it was a fun little detail I only remembered when writing this review.
This isn’t the must watch manga to movie adaptation of the year, but fans of either the series, or either lead actor, it’s worth your time. And no, I didn’t cry with some of the other women in the theater but I did tear up a bit.