Director: Takehiko Shinjo
Unimpressive film of the popular girls comic series.
Part of the shoujo (young girls) manga scene, Paradise Kiss is a live-action adaptation of Ai Yazawa's five volume tale. If the concept of young girls manga isn't enough to put you off in the first place there are a plethora of other reasons to persuade you. The characters are, by and large, paper-thin caricatures of stereotypes that will fill you with a desire to inflict severe physical pain on them from the off. This is in no way helped by a painfully over-long story. No matter how much you've had enough of the three-act rom-com structure, you will never think of it more fondly then when this film launches into its annexed fourth act of unbelievable nonsense. As one for the kids Paradise Kiss, naturally, has some sensible little life morals at its heart, but when they are delivered by such incredibly, self-obsessed, preening buffoons it feels akin to taking anger management lessons from a psychopath.
The story tells the trials and tribulations of Yukari Hayasaka's (Keiko Kitagawa) fledgling steps into the world of fashion and modelling. She is a struggling high-school student, buckling under the pressure of all the entrance exams and a demanding mother, pushing her since she was a toddler. By chance one day she is accosted in the street by the permanently agitated fashion student Arashi who, along with transvestite Isabella, persuade her to come to their design studio, the titular Paradise Kiss. There, Yukari is introduced to the other members of the gang, ditsy girl Miwako, and leader, the self-titled 'genius', and all round immense prat Georgy Koizumi (Osamu Mukai). They introduce the 'frumpy' (read stunningly beautiful) Yukari into the world of fashion college. Before she knows it she has left her high-school, high-school sweetheart, and family behind to move in with Georgy and agreed to be their model for the end of year fashion show. These initially unusual people will surely have some nuggets of wisdom to impart on our heroine. Perhaps it could have something to do with everyone telling her, and then repeating it over and over again in voice-over flashbacks, "You don't even know who you are yet." Unsurprisingly it does.
One of the only members of the cast to emerge without their reputation lying entirely shattered in pieces on the floor, though there are some sizable cracks, is Keiko Kitagawa, as Yukari. She gives her performance some gusto, and is at least likable. She is strikingly beautiful and the transition from clutsy high-school girl to attractive model is perhaps not quite as pronounced as was intended due to this. Nonetheless, she holds her own and at least has some screen presence. Mukai plays the arrogant, egotistical, and condescending student designer Georgy. Hat permanently at a 45 degree angle and a constant smug grin, he is easily one of the most irritating characters to wander around a cinema screen in a long time. The single most frustrating part of this performance is that it is obviously intended to come across as ice cool, whereas anyone with a mental age of over 17, and you'd hope even those a little younger, will surely see him for the swaggering arse he is. He assumes the role of mentor for Yukari trying to get her to come out of her shell. Alarmingly, one of the ways he does this is by taking her to a love-hotel and forcing himself on her. If, like me, you don't buy into the absurd idea of him as a plausible love interest, then it negates anything he has to say and makes the final 40 minutes an unbearable slog.
The rest of the cast rarely rise above filler. They clearly had much larger roles in the comics, but here they must make do with the odd thirty seconds of screen time allowed. Arashi (Kento Kaku) bizarrely is inexplicably angry whenever he is involved. Like a drug addict going cold turkey he shouts at everyone. Except he isn't a drug addict, and their is no real reason for these constant outbursts. Isabella played by Shunji Igarashi is fairly decent and is a believable transvestite, he just has very, very little to do. Their inclusion was obviously essential, as dictated by the source material, but if they have nothing to contribute it doesn't stop it from being pointless. In terms of performance quality, it is hard to give a solid opinion. I wondered whether the actors were attempting to imbue this with a feel of the manga, or simply just not very good at acting. There were lots of unnatural and exaggerated shots of surprise, shock, and so on. It was decidedly cringe worthy in parts but I suppose the benefit of the doubt is required here as there are plenty of other things to moan about.
Though not quite Lord of the Rings, Paradise Kiss just refuses to end. One of the saving graces of romantic comedies is they almost never over-stay their welcome. They reassure us with their predictability, fluttering nicely around the ninety minute mark before floating into the end credits. In a way they are not unlike a dream, you have a rough idea of what happened but little tangible memory of it. Things seem to be going nicely along with the program here, and just when you think you sense the fade to black around the corner, another thirty minutes are mercilessly tacked on. I appreciate the requirements of adaptation, and that clearly a lot of sacrifices were made to accommodate the running time (the TV serialisation took twelve episodes), but when a film this formulaic in every other respect steps out of sync for even a moment it jars, sticking out like a sore thumb.
The production values are quite high for a film of this nature. Things do generally look quite nice, and there isn't so much of that TV movie feel that sometimes plagues low budget Japanese movies. However, the fashion isn't going to fool anyone. Believe me when I say I am no fashionista, not remotely. But, if even the jeans and T-shirt brigade can sense that something is a tad amiss in the haute couture stakes, then you have a problem. The dresses look like a flower threw up on them, as though they were designed by a particularly giddy seven year old. Everyone taking everything so incredibly seriously and raving about how inspired it all is, just adds to the silliness. I know that the age-group this is aimed at are not known for being the most grounded members of society, but there is something borderline offensive to all these 17-20 year olds acting like they are the center of the universe and all humanity. If anyone has had the misfortune to watch Gossip Girl where pre-teens stalk New York as if they ruled the world, it will be a familiar sense of over-whelming nausea.
Paradise Kiss clearly has a target audience, and I'm sure that its members will be able to appreciate this for what it is. For non-fans there is nothing here worth turning your heads for. Even viewed as a simple rom-com it comes up wanting. Having been translated into over eleven languages and recuperating over half of its budget in its opening weekend in Japan alone, it is easy to understand why Fox International were interested in getting this made. This, however, is definitely not a flattering example of Japanese manga up on the big screen.