God of Novels – Japanese Film Review

This is a title, that’s been smoldering in the back of my mind for awhile. Originally scheduled for a May screening, I thought I was going to miss seeing it in theaters due to travel plans. As you can guess due to global circumstances, those travel plans were cancelled and this film was postponed until October. So with some gas in my tank, I made my way to the theater and social-distanced watched this with some unexpected results.

Chitani Ichiya (Sato Taiki) debuted as a novelist when he was in middle school. His debut novel was highly criticized, and not popular. Now as a high school student, Ichiya is struggling to write any sort of follow up. His editor proposes that Ichiya collaborate with a new, highly successful novelist Koyurugi Shiina (Hashimoto Kanna). Little does the editor realize the duo have met before, and are on rather icy terms with one another. The editor tells them that their collaborative novel, should be one that can touch the hearts of everyone. Even with the duo’s polar opposite personalities, writing styles, and motivations, they end up agreeing to write this new novel.

This was a movie that I went in a bit blind to, and doing so nearly bit me in the ass. I knew from the jump that this was originally a novel, about two teens writing novels, that was made into a live action movie. Putting it like that in words, makes certain things like, that the story would be more dialogue then action based, and some more modern Japanese literature would be referenced verses other popular culture very obvious. Somehow my brain did not put these ideas together until post-viewing reflection. However, I did surprise myself by how much dialogue I did pick up, and I managed to follow the core story and important quotes well.

Given the premise of this film, it’s not a title that’s particularly exciting. There’s a lot of scenes where the characters are talking to one another in various locations; the literature club room, cafes, and Chitani’s room. I will say that the director did manage to inject some movement into the series given that the first ten to maybe fifteen minutes is in black and white. More specifically, I think they threw on a black and white filter during editing, but I will give them credit where it’s due because it threw me for a loop and got me engaged more then if they had started in color.

The fact that the initial scene where Shiina is describing the concept for the collaboration novel is made so much more fantastical. Ichiya begins transcribe these notes and slowly becomes entranced by Shiina’s idea and passion was really well done. It’s only when Shiina’s idea reaches the full blossom that color and I believe music, is fully introduced to the story. Following that up was that the film had it’s ‘acts’ split into ‘chapters’ instead as transitional scenes was a smart touch as well.

I also appreciate that they give Shiina, a strong backbone in the story. Shiina is a novelist who truly has passion for the craft, but is held back by personal circumstances. She is dead-set on how she writes, and who she writes for which is what makes her such a compelling novelist. Whereas Ichiya doesn’t have a solid base of who he’s writing for, and is obviously uncertain of a lot of elements given earlier criticism. Shiina doesn’t shy away from revising and rewrites, but Ichiya does as it reminds him of past failures. The duo have their own weak points, strong points, which are balanced out fairly well as two authors who were given polar opposite public receptions. I personally think that both Hashimoto Kanna, and Sato Taiki had amazing chemistry as the non-romantic duo and it really showed throughout the film.

Of course, the two butt heads over many things. But like any collaborative work, eventually they realize, as many high schoolers do, that each of them are fighting battles the other just can not understand. They grow as people and writers through this. And in finding their rhythm with one another, they are able to inspire their fellow members of the Literature Club, Kunori Masaki (Sato Ryuji), and Naruse Akino (Shibata Kyoka) to peruse their own passions.

While reflectively, I appreicate both Masaki and Akino providing outlets outside of the core story, it’s shame we don’t see much progress with them. A lot of the time, it almost felt they were dragging the story down, but in actuality they were fleshing it out. Earnest and sweet Akino is a fangirl of both Shiina and Ichiya, and also a budding novelist herself. She’s the one that shows how novelists research and get their start in this story. Then their is the more grounded, Masaki. He’s the mischievous character who knew that both Shiina and Ichiya were novelists, and set up as many fights as he ended up defusing. He really seems like he played a more vital role in the novel itself, but got sidelined in movie. A shame really since Sato Ryuji is a really talented actor.

About the only, truly bad part of this film was the music. I’m not sure what happened in production, but every time one of the songs is introduced it was way too loud. It covered the last few words in a scene, and bombarded the viewer’s ears since the majority of the film had a much more subdued sound design. It’s truly a shame since all the music really did suit the mood the film, but it so poorly integrated that it stuck out for all the wrong reasons. That being said, I do recommend listening to both Leola and Rei if you haven’t, so shameless plug goes here:

God of Novels, despite it’s title isn’t as impactful as you’d expect. It has a straightforward plot, with a solid character set up with a few other details to keep it moving. The cinematography was top-notch and had a lot of well-incorporated ideas from novels or about them to keep the theme up. Yet, the lasting impact wasn’t particularly high. It’s an enjoyable film to pass the time with, but not an essential. With that, I’ll see you guys next post!

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