I was in a bit of a festive mood and wanted to watch something about romance during Christmas, so I went for Subete wa Kimi ni Aeta Kara, which was billed as the Japanese version of the romantic comedy Love Actually when it came out in 2013. The film was made to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Tokyo Station, which acts as the backdrop for six interconnected stories featuring 12 characters that take place just before Christmas. I generally don’t do well with short stories or omnibus films, as I always feel short-changed and that there isn’t enough development, or that people don’t know how to do brevity well. But since the film stars Tamaki Hiroshi, I just had to give it a shot.
The six interconnected stories include a company president who has lost faith in love (Eve no Koibito), a couple struggling with a long-distance relationship (Enkyori Renai), a college student afraid to confess her feelings to her senpai (Christmas no Yuki), an orphanage worker who is waiting for a new mother for one of the children (Christmas Present), a father who has to tell his son he doesn’t have long to live (Nibun no Ichi Seijinshiki), and a cake shop employee reminiscing about a 49-year-old promise (Okurete Kita Present). The stories seem more bittersweet than your usual rom-com, which was actually okay given how they played out.
Eve no Koibito is my favourite not only because it is Tamaki Hiroshi’s segment, it is also the only story to make me laugh. Tamaki stars as Kuroyama Kazuki, the president of a web design company who thinks women are only after his money. He’s hard on his employees but has a penchant for watching films and often asks his secretary to rent DVDs for him. By chance he meets aspiring actress Sasaki Reiko (Takanashi Rin) at a high-end restaurant and bar and mistakenly thinks she pretended to run into him only because he looks rich and has credit cards. An offended Reiko then bursts out that she went to the restaurant and bar only because she was supposed to do so with her boyfriend, who is now dead. Kazuki is chastened and horrified to see Reiko crying, but she storms off in a huff… it turns out Reiko was just putting on an act because Kazuki was so insufferable, hahaha.
The next day, Kazuki runs into Reiko and apologises for upsetting her. Reiko insists she’s fine and feels bad for deceiving him, but Kazuki wants to make amends, so he ends up bringing bentos for her acting troupe, who are performing in a Christmas play for the orphanage. Later on, Reiko shares her acting dreams with Kazuki as they walk along the river, and he asks if they can meet again (but fashions it as an excuse to watch her play). Reiko realises Kazuki is actually a nice person, so she confesses she lied about the dead boyfriend. Kazuki is pissed and walks off after telling her she has no right to be acting.
Reiko writes a letter to Kazuki to apologise for having hurt him with her prided acting skills, but it goes unnoticed until Christmas Eve, when he finally realises the existence of the letter. He then digs up the leaflet of the play, but realises the play is over by the time he calls the orphanage. Chiharu (Ichikawa Miwako), the orphanage worker who is also Reiko’s friend, tells Kazuki this is Reiko’s last play and that she is taking the last bus back to Kochi as she is giving up her acting dreams in Tokyo. When Kazuki calls his secretary to ask for DVD recommendations, she confesses that it was the store assistant who had been helping her all along – but the girl has quit and is going back to Kochi. So the secretary had recommended that she go to the bar and restaurant that Kazuki frequents. Kazuki realises the person is actually Reiko and runs off to the station to find her, where he tells her everything he learnt from his secretary. He then shyly asks what film she’d recommend watching for a first date, and Reiko smiles, delighted.
Even though Eve no Koibito is a conventional love story, it is still sweet and heartwarming, and I love the happy ending for Kazuki and Reiko. The little trick Reiko played on Kazuki and how easily he fell for it made me laugh, and I really like how everything played out in the aftermath. It’s been a long while since I’ve watched a conventional romance without histrionics, and I like that while Kazuki was hurt by Reiko’s lie, he didn’t yell or get alpha male on her; rather, he made his point clear with just a few choice words that left her feeling ashamed (also, the music was so cute in that scene that it totally downplayed the gravity of the situation, so I ended up giggling at Kazuki’s consternation when he realised he was being played). I also like the twist about Reiko being the store assistant who picked Kazuki’s DVDs for him, it’s kind of adorable that they bond over acting and films. Kazuki had also actually brushed past Reiko a few times in the train station, so… it must be fate, haha. I’m kind of a sucker for “cynical guy doesn’t believe in love” tropes and it helps tons if said cynical guy is played by a heartthrob like Tamaki. Also, I was sold the moment I saw Kazuki wearing a waistcoat… holy moly, Tamaki looked ridiculously gorgeous in it. Not to mention the long coats Kazuki wears… I have a thing for sexy men in long coats too, hahaha.
Eve no Koibito is the kind of story I’d love to see expanded into a full-length film (aka gimme two hours’ worth of Tamaki goodness). I feel there’s quite a bit to mine from what’s already been given and I’d like to have seen a stronger love connection between Kazuki and Reiko – as it is, I feel the attraction’s more on his side than hers. But even in its condensed state, it gives a warm, fuzzy feeling and I was really happy to see Tamaki as a conventional romantic male lead (in his segment, that is). He rocked the role and I love his Kazuki. Despite having done a variety of roles, Tamaki surprisingly hasn’t really done many purely romance dramas or films as the lead, which is a real shame considering his talent and good looks (makes me really want to write a romantic story just for Tamaki to star in!). So even though Eve no Koibito was so short, it was a treat nevertheless.
The other stories are pretty decent and heartwarming on their own, although I thought Nibun no Ichi Seijinshiki was rather heartbreaking and stood out among the rest, since it’s a story about a father who has to tell his son he doesn’t have long to live. Tokito Saburo was wonderful as the dad Miyazaki Masayuki, a train driver who quits his job in order to spend his final months at home with his wife Saori (Otsuka Nene) and son Koji (Yamasaki Ryutaro). There were some heartwarming moments, such as Masayuki and Saori making it to Koji’s class presentation in time to hear him say his dream is to become a great train driver like his dad, and father and son playing catch or doing homework together. The scene that got me teary was when Masayuki tells Koji the truth and the boy breaks down in his father’s arms. Masayuki gets Koji to promise to take care of mom, while she sobs in the bedroom. Later on, Masayuki begins penning a letter to 20-year-old Koji. Even knowing his time is nearing, there’s such quiet dignity in Masayuki that one can’t help but feel for him and Saori. Christmas shouldn’t be this sad, but the unfortunate truth is that it isn’t always the jolly, festive season the commercials make it out to be.
The neat thing about this segment is that Saori turns out to be Kazuki’s elder sister, and I love that connection since I love both actors. Kazuki gets a call at work from Saori, who says she has received the game software he sent for Koji, then breaks down and confesses her husband has at most three months. This puts Kazuki in a sombre mood and when he later runs into Reiko during lunchtime, he is prompted to make amends for his earlier rude behaviour. I also like how the connections between the characters and stories are fairly subtle. For example, Saori and Kazuki are siblings, Reiko is Chiharu’s friend and part of the annual Christmas Eve production at the orphanage, while Masayuki regularly buys a Christmas cake from the cake shop near the station – that shop is manned by both the college student and her older co-worker who tells her about the 49-year-old promise. The only story where there doesn’t seem to be any outright connection is the one about the long-distance couple, unless I missed something.
Each of these stories has a message about the importance of valuing relationships, giving others a (second) chance, fighting for one’s happiness and keeping the faith, aided by a little Christmas magic. I like how everything weaved together and didn’t hit me over the head with its messages and storytelling. While not every story is a feel-good one, the film has enough warm and happy feels, and a sexy boss, to keep you company for a couple of hours.