At The Tokyo International Film Festival 2016, we got a chance to see the first live-action film adaptation of classic romance anime ItaKiss with Itazurana Kiss THE MOVIE in High School.
Itazurana Kiss is the story of Kotoko, a girl in high school who decides to start her final year by giving a love letter to Naoki, the most popular guy in school. Also the smartest boy in school, Naoki brutally rejects her due to the prominent misspelling of the word “letter” on the envelope.
Publicly humiliated, she returns home–only to have it destroyed by two men working on the house’s gas line. With nowhere left to go, she and her father end up moving in with his (now stupidly rich) childhood friend–who turns out to be Naoki’s father.
Now living with the boy who rejected her, Kotoko works to show Naoki she’s not half as stupid as he thinks she is… with admittedly mixed results.
As you probably guessed from the plot setup, the comedy in Itazurana Kiss ranges from the slapstick to the over-the-top–with the humor getting more low key as the movie goes on and the drama takes over.
Kotoko is your typical “every girl” protagonist. She is basically normal, if a bit on the lazy side. But her most enjoyable aspect is that she has no qualms about playing dirty. Blackmail is her go-to weapon and she will go through with her threats when angered. It is a striking character flaw that gives her a bit more of a personality than you’d otherwise expect.
Naoki, the other half of the main pair, is easily the most interesting character in the film. In many romance stories of this type, Naoki would be shown to be a nice guy underneath–or perhaps a sadist who can only express his feelings by picking on the female lead.
Naoki, how is neither nice nor is he a sadist. He’s just a dick. He gets annoyed when having to interact with anyone less intelligent than himself–which is nearly anyone outside his own class. The idea that he would be spending extended amounts of time with someone in the class famous for having the lowest grades in the school is an anathema to him.
But what’s interesting is what he discovers about himself. It’s not that he hates dumb people as much as it is that he hates lazy dumb people. Watching Kotoko work hard to better herself is genuinely interesting to him–though he’d rather it wasn’t.
Naoki is blessed (cursed?) with a ton of money and an eidetic memory. He’s never needed to study or work hard. He just sees something once and knows it forever. To him, almost everyone is playing catch up. If they can’t match him on an intellectual level, what good are they to him?
Kotoko herself is the answer to this question. Even with her hard work (and Naoki’s reluctant tutoring) she’ll never be on his level. However, she does add one element to Naoki’s life which makes her appealing: the unexpected.
Life has never been a challenge for Naoki. But with Kotoko’s interference–and her general aura of bad luck–life is hard for him. For the first time, he has problems to overcome. And it is an experience he can’t get enough of. He’s been called amazing for years by those around him, but through her, he starts to believe the hype (and rightly so).
The characters in the supporting cast are quite interesting as well. The relationship between the two fathers, one rich and the other comparatively poor, is a touching one. Naoki’s father clearly sees Kotoko’s as the friend he had from decades ago–to him, their relationship is simply continuing. To Kotoko’s father, it is a bit more complicated. Most of the time, he’s able to treat his friend as an equal–despite their obvious class differences–but every once in awhile he is forced to admit that he is causing great trouble to his old friend by moving in and interfering with his family.
Naoki’s family, on the other hand, seems more happy than annoyed, even when things go wrong. Naoki reluctantly enjoys the chaos Kotoko brings to his world and Naoki’s mother is ecstatic to finally have a girl in the house that she can pamper like the daughter she never had. The only one with real, lasting reservations is Naoki’s younger brother, who is clearly annoyed that Kotoko is getting all of Naoki’s attention instead of him–but even he coexists with Kotoko rather well as the film goes on.
While Itazurana Kiss THE MOVIE in High School is but the first film in a planned trilogy, even three films are clearly not enough to hold all the source material. Even though I have never read the manga nor seen the anime of ItaKiss, it is clear to me that a lot of the story has ended up on the cutting room floor.
There are several time jumps in the film and several important sounding events are mentioned as having happened off screen. Moreover, it’s clear that Naoki’s relationship with Kotoko has been affected by these events as they will be getting along fine only to be suddenly antagonistic after the time jump. Don’t get me wrong, the story makes sense and stands alone perfectly well, but it’s obvious some key moments are missing.
The film also spends some time setting up plot points that are never addressed (likely to be resolved in one of the upcoming films) along with introducing characters that never have any real impact on the film.
Itazurana Kiss THE MOVIE in High School is a surprisingly fun little rom-com. The characters are far enough away from the stereotype to be interesting and the relationships between the them are easy to become invested in. If nothing else, I am excited to see the next two films.
Of course, we’ll have to see if I don’t break down before then and just read the whole manga.
Itazurana Kiss THE MOVIE in High School will be released in Japanese theaters on November 25, 2016. There is currently no word on a Western release. The anime can be seen on Hulu.