19 February 2014 | shawneofthedead
Sweet, odd and fantastical - albeit a little slow-moving.
On the surface, Girl In The Sunny Place - with its non-descript and oddly-phrased title - looks like just about every other Japanese romantic drama out there. Boy meets girl in a terribly cute fashion. Boy courts girl in a sigh-inducing way, and they fall head over heels in love. But boy and girl must inevitably be separated, either by (a) a terminal disease, (b) disapproving parents, (c) a deep, dark secret or (d) other. In the case of Girl In The Sunny Place, it's all of the above, kind of, which sets it apart from the rest of the pack - but also makes it an unusually complicated film to pull off.
Salesman Kosuke Okuda (Jun Matsumoto) leads a boring, normal life, with no girl or happily ever after in sight. The last thing he expects is to run into Mao Watarai (Juri Ueno), a friend from his junior high school days, at a work meeting. As it turns out, Kosuke and Mao have a history together: she was the misfit new girl, awkward and slow, and he was the guy who stood up for her whenever she was bullied. Almost ten years later, they finally have the chance to fall in love. But, just as they're blissfully settling into their new lives together, they start to feel the consequences of a fateful decision made by Mao many years ago.
There's a twist to this love story - one by which viewers might be puzzled, amused, fascinated or repulsed, occasionally at the same time. The revelation shouldn't really come as a big shock; in fact, clues to its nature are so obviously scattered throughout (there's a big clue in Mao's name) that it can sometimes feel as if the film takes an unnecessarily long time to get to its point. But it's so odd and fantastical that audience members might find themselves fretting over the metaphysics, biology and logic of the situation rather than really giving in to the love story.
Twist aside, Girl In The Sunny Place is a solidly-crafted, if slightly plodding, romantic drama. Clocking in at 129 minutes, the film runs a little too long to support its rather slight story. At least the relationship between Kosuke and Mao is lovingly developed, and benefits from the sweet chemistry shared by Matsumoto and Ueno. It's largely due to their doe-eyed efforts that the film comes to pack the emotional punch that it does. The ending may be predictable but - if you give in to its sun-drenched, bittersweet charm - it can also be pretty darn heartrending.