Alter-egos: Nanimono & Aku to Kamen no Ruru

Greetings for the new year! Here’s wishing everyone a plentiful year in terms of dramas and films, and whatever your heart desires. It is fitting therefore to begin the year with a post on films by two actors I like and who are always lovely to watch on screen. The two films are very different in content, but there are some surprising similarities to be found.

Also, happy birthday to Tamaki Hiroshi! 💖💖💖 He turns 39 this year, and after the big year he had in 2018 – getting married, starring in three films, and being picked for a WOWOW drama, among other achievements – here’s hoping 2019 will bring more success for him!

I. Nanimono

Five university students, united in their struggles in the hunt for jobs, come together to cheer one another on. Ninomiya Takuto (Sato Takeru) is observant and analytical. His roommate Kamiya Kotaro (Suda Masaki) is bubbly and cheerful, and used to be in a band. Takuto nurses an unrequited crush on Kotaro’s ex-girlfriend Tanabe Mizuki (Arimura Kasumi). Kobayakawa Rika (Nikaido Fumi) is a go-getter and determined to secure a job, while her hippie boyfriend Miyamoto Takayoshi (Okada Masaki) is critical of the current job-hunting landscape.

At first glance, Nanimono depicts the difficulties of the job hunt in Japan, and the scary monotony and drudgery of it. There is a standard outfit for interviews, and the many tests one must go through, not to mention the one-minute self-introduction that is supposed to help the candidate stand out among the competition. Everyone wants to be somebody, complete with an overenthusiastic “I can do it” attitude, but it’s a buyer’s (employer’s) market, and the job-seekers are there for the taking. The process is brutal, and lucky are the few who end up with a decent job, even if they have to settle for it – and earn the envy of others who were not so fortunate.

The twist in the latter half of the film was surprising, but provides more food for thought about the job hunt beyond it being a rite of passage. What does it mean, to be somebody, in the circles one exists in, and in the society at large? The film examines the meaning of self-worth, the need for a voice to be heard (and the need to be a voice that should be heard), to make a meaningful impression beyond a bunch of tweets or a brief self-introduction. The idea of needing to stay relevant affects every job-seeker regardless of age or experience and the film intercuts the job search with scenes of a theatre group’s performances – the juxtaposition, while a touch oversimplified, serves to show the extent of what one would sacrifice in exchange for a modicum of stability. At some point in time, everyone ends up needing a job – to blend in, to do the “right” thing, to just make ends meet like any ordinary person would.

Sato Takeru and Nikaido Fumi stood out among the performances – especially in the latter half where their characters clashed. It takes one to know one, and I would have been happy just watching Takuto and Rika’s interactions. Arimura Kasumi was bland, and Suda Masaki seemed to overcompensate sometimes because of that, but was otherwise fine as the happy-go-lucky Kotaro. Okada Masaki was decent, while Yamada Takayuki provided some balance and was the voice of reason as Takuto’s senpai.

A pretty relatable watch, especially for those who have suffered repeated rejection while job-hunting. Dreams are for other people, or are they?

~

II. Aku to Kamen no Ruru

This time last year, I wrote a birthday post on Tamaki Hiroshi being in this film and shared the teaser. I’ve finally watched the film and am happy to say that it was generally solid, and had a decent go at following the source novel.

Basically, Kuki Fumihiro (Tamaki Hiroshi) was taught from young how to wreak as much havoc and unhappiness on earth, so that the family could exploit and profit from all that destruction. His father, having introduced a girl Kaori (Araki Yuuko) to be Fumihiro’s friend and playmate, intends to have Kaori gang-raped so as to destroy any goodness and humanity left in Fumihiro. Driven by his desire to protect Kaori, Fumihiro changes himself – becoming Shintani Koichi – and disappears in order to protect her from a distance…

The film preserved the novel’s dialogue-heavy encounters and philosophical and rather abstract mood – the colour choices were an interesting touch – so this was not some action-filled crime thriller. It is thus advisable to go into the film already aware of this, instead of expecting some high-stakes action and lots of gunfire. While Fumihiro’s plans to keep Kaori safe are central to the film – such as hiring a private eye Sakakibara (Mitsuishi Ken, in a gentle, likeable portrayal) to track her down and update him on any strange goings-on around her – he also gets entangled with young terrorist wannabe Ito Ryosuke (Yoshizawa Ryo). There is much debate about the types of activities, not only traditional terrorism, that threaten the fabric of society. Most of the key characters – okay, mostly Fumihiro – have to wrestle with dual identities and keeping the past from rearing its ugly head, not to mention ethical and moral dilemmas.

Tamaki had described the film as “an extraordinary love story” in one of his interviews, and while I disagree with that sentiment, I can understand why he would see it that way as love was one of the driving forces of much of his character’s actions. I thought the scenes he had with Araki Yuuko were nicely done, especially the tenderness in his eyes when he met Kaori at the nightclub, and that scene towards the end where he tried really hard to hold back his emotions while talking to her. While I could have done with a bit more of Fumihiro wrestling with his inner demons, I thought Tamaki handled well the struggles of trying to be Shintani Koichi and having to take the kind of steps necessary to protect Kaori that he thought he’d moved beyond.

Nakamura Tatsuya was decent as Mikihiko, Fumihiro’s elder brother who is clearly his father’s son and has every intention of continuing the family legacy. That face-off with Fumihiro was intriguing to watch, and you wonder if Fumihiro would finally crack. Emoto Akira was his usual dogged self as the detective who is hot on the heels of Shintani, while Yoshizawa Ryo brought out the naïveté of a youth who thought he knew how the world operated and was prepared to use any means to “make it better”. Araki was fine as Kaori, but did not really have much to do.

Overall, watchable especially if you are a Tamaki fan and are looking for something different to try.

junny@1.14am

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8 thoughts on “Alter-egos: Nanimono & Aku to Kamen no Ruru

  1. Ohh… so he got married already. Haha! How time flies! To me, he’s always gonna be the young Chiaki-senpai. Anyhow, I really want to watch Nanimono but I couldn’t find any subs for it before.

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  2. I was really impressed with Nikaido-san in Sumu Sumu recently (well, recently subbed at least). She showed a completely different persona in that series and it didn’t hurt that it was one of the most fun and funny jdramas I’ve seen.

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    • Ooh, I really need to watch that one as well, I heard it was good. Yes, Nikaido is generally very reliable and watchable (we shall not mention the blip that is Strawberry Night Saga).

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  3. Oh, hi! I watched Nanimono on an airplane, so I definitely think I need to rewatch it. Did you read Aku to Kamen no Ruru the novel or otherwise learn about it? I really enjoy your reviews because you are so thoughtful. Lastly, Yoshizawa Ryo seems to be emerging as an actor and not just a pretty face.

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    • Thank you for always being so kind about my writing!

      Re Aku to Kamen no Ruru, I actually hunted for the novel after hearing that Tamaki was going to play the lead character. So I read it sometime before the film came out. Haven’t seen Yoshizawa in many things, but he does seem to have decent acting chops.

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