2 December 2006 | CountZero313
lacking in spirit, Christmas or otherwise
Toho's attempt to cash in on the Christmas market crashes horribly in this excruciatingly unfunny film. Quite simply, the whole thing tries too hard to be cute and heart-warming, like a tacky plastic gift dressed up in expensive wrapping paper. Nakatani as klutzy Honda is at her most convincing in this Cinderella tale when she gets to dress up and go to the ball. Before that, we are supposed to believe that she is plain simply because they stick a pair of spectacles on her and have her fall down a lot. The woman is stunning; pinning her hair up didn't make Gwynth Paltrow less beautiful in 'Possession,' and having Nakatani squint through a pair of prescription glasses doesn't work here, either. Did nobody learn from the make-up job that was done on Cameron Diaz in 'Being John Malkovich'?
The manga references are cute enough; little CG crowns and tiaras marking out the 'chosen ones' in Honda's daydream-filled universe. Some of the actors do decent work here, particularly Abe as the brother, and Sato as Honda's forlorn suitor. There is a lovely little sequence when he hands a flick-comic to Honda, and asks her to provide the ending. But such moments are fleeting; instead the sickly sweet Christmas message (Japanese-style - think Valentine's Day with mistletoe) gets layered on over and over again. Sato, when he should be conflicted over his decision to help the love of his life achieve her goal, instead turns toward camera, and in extreme close up, says "Merry Christmas." Just when you think that is the worst possible line, a minor character whose cheating ways are exposed turns to camera and says, "Oh my Jesus." For the first time in a long time, I blushed furiously in a darkened theatre. I think the other four sagging patrons did, too.
This overcooked turkey never stops. There is a wedding scene where three characters take it in turn to deliver speeches that are merely soliloquies, and extended ones at that. Even when Cinderella gets to kiss her prince, we have more exposition through soliloquy - the only time I heard anyone in the theatre titter. Some of the sequences look as if they were edited with a spoon. There are also a couple of irritating dream characters, a Grandpa and Grandson, who turn up at the oddest times. They are meant to be Portuguese, I think, because they wear Portugal football tops and wave a little Portuguese flag. Still, that doesn't explain why the Grandpa looks Egyptian and the Grandson Thai. Maybe I missed something.
Nakatani is always pleasant on the eye and she does her best with some pretty lame material. There is no chemistry between her and Osawa - the kiss, when it comes, has to be one of the most tepid in screen history. The commercial Christmas songs slap you around the head continuously. The comedic talent of YOU, a woman we know can act thanks to Nobody Knows, is wasted. And it is all a bit of a shame, because the story premise is not bad, and the Lisbon location could have been used to so much better effect. I am not aware of the director's background, but this one smells of TV director failing to cross over. Two stars just for Nakatani giving it a go.