Most international viewers are familiar with director Obayashi Nobuhiko primarily through his 1977 cult classic "Hausu". His often surreal touches are visible in the narrative of "Tenkôsei" (I Are You, You Am Me / Transfer Student, 1982) as well, though they aren't used as abundantly. In this film, the director is not simply trying to confuse his audience, but to also use his narrative choices to form a meaningful tale about two people coming to understand one another better. The film, adapted from a novel by Yamanaka Hisashi, was obviously an important project for Obayashi, since he chose to return to this subject again in 2007.
Set in a small town, this film is the tale of a boy and a girl, teenagers Kazuo (Omi Toshinori) and Kazumi (Kobayashi Satomi). Through an accident, they switch bodies and have to continue their lives in the other's shoes. It is never explained why this happens, you just have to go with it. Initially, the two don't like each other much, but through time they gain perspective, and a more compassionate understanding of gender roles and equality.
The film is mostly a comedy, and a fun one too. The concept is original and entertaining, and the narrative very loose, giving way for comedic situations instead of plot devices. The best thing about this film is Kobayashi Satomi's fantastic performance, one of the best I have ever seen by a teenager. She genuinely feels like a boy trapped into a body of a girl. Her mannerisms were fantastic. Omi Toshinori is good too, though because he plays the reversed role of a girl in a boy's body, the screenplay has him sobbing a bit too much.
The film has several good points about the upbringing of boys and girls, and the double standards that these attitudes contain. The film also campaigns for higher individualism, and often views gender norms as a prison, or as an obstacle for the characters to overcome. It is quite funny to see the two of them trying to fit in, and getting to see all the everyday absurdities that go with being a boy/a girl.
It's not perfect, and personally I felt the film overstayed its welcome. The film would have benefited from a little editing, though the relaxed tempo also supports the narrative. The remake that Obayashi made 25 years later is actually the longer of the two. All in all, an enjoyable ride.