Tortured musician? Check. Hot male lead? Check. That was my mindset when searching for lighter fare to watch after BORDER and deciding to give Kanojo wa uso wo aishisugiteru a try. I am not generally a fan of shoujo manga or stories with high-school characters, but it surely couldn’t hurt to spend a couple of hours with two winsome leads.
Ogasawara Aki (Sato Takeru) is a genius musician who composes songs for the popular band Crude Play. Aki is moody and depressed despite his success, and desires an escape from the music that has dominated his life. One day, he meets high school student Koeda Riko (Ohara Sakurako) and starts a relationship with her on a whim, lying about his identity. When Riko is scouted by Takagi Soichiro (Sorimachi Takashi), the same producer who propelled Crude Play to success, Aki’s lies start to unravel…
I haven’t seen a lot of Sato Takeru’s works, but remember him best from the Rurouni Kenshin live action trilogy, where he was excellent as the protagonist Kenshin, particularly in his fight scenes (he did most of the stunts himself, which was impressive). I didn’t realise, however, that in between doing Rurouni Kenshin films, Sato also took time out to film Kanojo wa uso wo aishisugiteru. The two roles couldn’t have been more different, and it was surprisingly Sato’s first romance film – seriously, the people who should be romantic leads never seem to get around to that often enough for my liking.
I’d only read a little of the source manga by Aoki Kotomi, but did skim some reviews that praised Sato’s acting and said the film was a fairly close adaptation of the manga, which meant respecting the essence of the source and can only be a good thing (Sato even looked and felt like manga Aki). The manga was still unfinished at the time of filming, so things had to be tweaked and a lot of material had to be crammed into two hours. On that basis, I cut the film some slack, went into it with low expectations and treated it more or less as a standalone.
Tortured musicians must be my thing, because I loved that Aki was jaded, angsty and closed off, suffering from what he considered to be a betrayal of music by selling out. He was not opposed to commercially made music that was available easily, but it was not the kind of music he wanted to make, even if what he’d done up to now had brought him success. Indeed, it was Aki’s songs that had gotten him noticed by Takagi, so it must be quite the double blow that not only was he partly responsible for his current predicament, he continued to add to it because he still wrote songs for Crude Play despite dropping out as their bassist before debut. He also had to ghostwrite songs for Takagi to be used for Mari (Aibu Saki), Aki’s girlfriend who was sleeping with Takagi. Interestingly, Takagi made the observation that Aki needed to be in that sort of wounded state in order to make great music – a nod to the stereotypical perception of artists whose self-destructive tendencies were often used to fuel their creativity. Sato was arresting the moment he appeared on the screen, and I found myself enjoying his portrayal of the moody genius composer. He exuded pain and loneliness, and there was an overall air of melancholia that lingered even when Aki was happy with Riko. I really felt for Aki as he struggled to do the right thing by himself and Riko, and it broke my heart when Aki cried his heart out after doing the noble idiocy thing on Riko for the sake of her budding career. The styling was so on point and I heartily recommend Sato to keep this hairstyle forever because he was hot as Aki.
The best part about Aki is that there is no jealousy about who is the better bassist or who wrote the better song. He recognised that Shinya (Kubota Masataka) was more skilled than he, and conceded his place in Crude Play without a fight so that his friends could debut. He also recognised that Shinya wrote a really good song for Riko’s debut in Mush & Co, and never insisted that Riko sing his song instead (he never even told Riko he wrote a song for her). Most times, noble idiocy is useless and stupid, but I love that Aki’s sacrifices benefited the people dearest to him and actually helped bring about their success. I’m just glad that through it all, Aki had the support of his best friend Shun (Miura Shohei), the vocalist of Crude Play – their friendship got some nice play, and Shun even took time out to play Cupid.
Riko was played by newbie actress Ohara Sakurako, who won a 5000-strong open audition for the role. It was easy to see why she won, for her voice was impressive and she was pretty natural and unassuming as the pure-hearted Riko despite not having any acting experience. Apparently, Sato said he felt goosebumps from Ohara’s singing, while mangaka Aoki also gave her approval, saying Ohara was the one. I really like that the production went to great lengths to select the right person, for Riko is a character who possesses a gifted voice and the actress needed to showcase that while exuding that special vibe that will draw Aki to her. I liked Ohara’s portrayal of Riko and thought she had pretty decent chemistry with Sato – they also had a real-life age gap that was similar to that of their characters: Sato was 24 and Ohara was 17 at the time of filming, while Aki was 25 and Riko 16.
I also thought it was a smart tactic not to reveal Riko’s singing prowess until about halfway through the film. When Takagi first scouted her, she was shown to be singing in the streets with her friends but the music was muted, and that left the audience wondering just what kind of a special voice she had for Takagi and later Shinya to want to groom her into the next big thing. Even though Aki knew Riko could sing, the film made it fairly clear that he fell for her because of how pure and gentle she was, and not for her voice. It was really nice to see how he gradually opened up to her, and how she was so understanding of why he lied – I am so glad the whole reveal was done without hysterics. I really liked that scene in Aki’s studio where he accompanied her on the guitar while she sang 卒業; it was so sweet and fun, and it was obvious how much more relaxed Aki had grown around her and was slowly enjoying his music once again. By then, although he got the full benefit of her singing prowess, he knew he had already fallen for her.
It was nice seeing Sorimachi Takashi again and even though his character was meh – the hairstyle certainly helped in that regard – he managed to make him tolerable (this was better shown in the side stories). Still, no matter how mercenary Takagi was, he undoubtedly had the eye for people who could produce quality music and knew how to market such music so it could sell. While it is not particularly deep, the film does provide some food for thought on the value and meaning of music, especially in a world where almost everything is disposable. Music was used in several ways – as an expression of self and identity; a way to communicate feelings; a tool for making money; a creative means to an end – to serve plot and characterisation development. The story moved quickly and there was never a dull or wasted moment, which said something for the film’s ability to weave a fairly tight storyline without losing too much on the details. A few things might have escaped viewers who haven’t read the manga, but otherwise, the film was fine as a standalone. I enjoyed most of the songs featured and now have them on loop – a personal favourite is サヨナラの準備は、もうできていた (short version). The songs were written by former Tokyo Jihen bassist Kameda Seiji, who was also the music producer for the film, and I found them really fitting for the film’s angsty, somewhat edgy vibe.
I loved how Aki’s song for Riko was weaved into the ending, with Riko singing it back to him and making it obvious she knew he was lying. ちっぽけな愛のうた was such a beautiful song that said volumes of Aki’s feelings for Riko. He never expected she would even know about it, so I’m glad she sang it to him in a moment that was private to the two of them. I loved that she sang and strummed her acoustic guitar, while he accompanied her on his bass. There weren’t many scenes of them playing together, so using this to cap off the film was precious. I don’t think Aki would stay on despite all this (it would make his sacrifice moot), but Riko could continue knowing that he still loves her even if he isn’t physically by her side.
The side stories provided some background meat on the main characters and were an enjoyable addition. I liked the ones that focused on Aki (and his lovely friendship with Shun), and it tickled me that he and his three sisters were named after seasons. Takagi’s segment also provided some interesting insight into why he pushes Aki so. The music industry isn’t all sugar and spice and all things nice, so I do like how Takagi makes no qualms about his methods to get the best out of Aki – the clash of wills and ideals is intriguing and I would have liked to see more of it. I don’t know how much of Aki’s strained relationship with Takagi was sketched out in the manga, but what was shown so far has got me interested enough to check out the rest of the source material.
Overall, I thought the film was well-made and liked that it was not some candy confection from start to finish – it acknowledged that the music business had a less than savoury side and the love story, which began with deception, had a hint of darkness that never quite faded. The issues raised were not all resolved with a neat bow tie, and it is realistic that sacrifices must be made for success to arrive. There was no “happy ending”, but Aki’s tiny love song offers hope and love for those who continue to believe in their dreams.