Cheers From Heaven – Review
When bento shop owner Hikaru Oshiro learns that a group of high school students have no place to practice music he takes it upon himself to build a studio beneath his store. The only stipulations he placed upon the students were that they respectfully greet others, do well in school, and be empathetic towards people in their community. But while Hikaru is willing to help the students succeed, he is also battling a terminal illness that he is keeping secret from his family and friends. Hikaru, courageously striving forward despite these setbacks, sees to it that the students realize their true dream.
Based on the true-life story of Hikaru Nakasone, an Okinawan man who opened a free music studio for the students of his hometown, Cheers From Heaven is certainly not a film whose premise we haven’t seen before—a young group of students want to start a band and become professional musicians—but while this isn’t an entirely original theme, the film takes this concept and broadens it to provide a look into the elements of communal teamwork and self sacrifice. Director Chikato Kumazawa—with this film being his directorial debut—alongside writers Masaya Ozaki and Kimiko Ueno, deliver a convincing tale about an ordinary man and his positive effect on an entire community, and perhaps more importantly, offers a story that defies many of the narrative pitfalls that often plague similar films.
Cheers From Heaven rearranges our perceptions of the group dynamic, removing the narrative from that of a simple man with a terminal illness to that of a communal environment where dreams are encouraged. The film emphasizes the importance of group work in order to succeed, with the narrative never portraying these characters as ones with astounding talent—they’re simply ordinary kids with aspirations for making it big. Scenes such as the students helping Hikaru build the music studio, to him helping them hand out their recording demos to local radio stations, the film showcases the tremendous amount of work that goes into realizing a common goal. There is one specific poignant scene in the film where Hikaru is questioned by wife on his reasoning for helping strangers, in which he replies, “In the past people were helping each other without hesitation. No one is helping this young band and it doesn’t have to be that way.” This scene encapsulates Hikaru’s philosophy of helping those in need instead simply shunning them, a notion that is often times a neglected practice in our contemporary world.
While other films have focused extensively on the downward spiral that surrounds the illness of a main character, Cheers From Heaven eases its way away from delving into such hardships, instead focusing on how the actions of one’s life can have an substantial affect on those left behind. One can see that the removal of such emotional contrivances drastically alters how the film is perceived, allowing us to see the triumphant nature of the character’s life rather than their inevitable death. Hiroshi Abe, an actor known for his stoic, manly roles, plays Hikaru Oshiro with his usual gentlemanly fashion. Here we see him as a man willing to selflessly help those around him, going out of his way towards even using his own money to help the local students realize their musical endeavors. Abe conveys a genuine portrait of a man urging to help those in need, even if it’s not an entirely new direction for him as an actor.
The film does creatively handle issues of death and teamwork with a sense of realism that avoids the overly sentimental nature of other films—for the most part. Towards the end, where Hikaru’s illness starts to rapidly affect him, Kumazawa seems keen on prolonging Hikaru’s attempts to help the students despite the man’s deteriorating health. Prior to this, the film expressed an almost documentary-like approach to its story, with a stringent focus on a variety of ordinary characters just trying to find a way to play music. When the film suddenly shifts to focusing entirely on Hikaru’s tragic demise, one can see the narrative slipping into the tired and cliché formula ever present in other films. While viewers will certainly appreciate Hikaru’s willingness to continue on regardless of his bodily failings, it hinges on becoming entirely too melodramatic for its own good. This is where the film becomes quite similar to previous films dealing with terminal illnesses, where the sentimental gravity of the situation—often times overly exaggerated purely for emotional effect—hits hard and is usually devastating. Luckily, the film redeems itself from falling completely into such overused territory by having Hikaru’s passing be symbolized as something much more than a simple loss, but rather his influence upon the very lives of the students he served.
The characterization that the film offers is rather subdued, with none of the characters particularly standing out as uniquely distinct. While this may appear as negative aspect of the film, it reinforces the aspect of community by adhering to the group as whole rather than single individuals. One can see that the film focuses on two primary characters—the obvious Hikaru Nakasone and the rebellious Yuuya, played by Masato Yano. We do get some insight into Yuuya’s livelihood more so than the other students, with his mother running a bar that Yuuya is shown as having a considerable distaste for. He is the notable outsider—callously making fun of the band’s members, showing disrespect towards his elders, and generally being one not to conform to others expectations. One can almost instantly see that writers Masaya Ozaki and Kimiko Ueno were attempting to solidify him as the “missing link” of the band, which simply appears as a generic narrative device to have the band face some kind of conflict. While one can appreciate Yuuya’s development as a character, viewers will perhaps question why none of the other band members received equal treatment.
Despite some of these difficulties, Cheers From Heaven is a film that nicely balances between the elements of community, sacrifice, and loss. While the film does indeed delve in certain areas that one my deem as cliché, the film remains grounded in its portrayal of a man helping his local community see that their dreams come to fruition. Hiroshi Abe gives another fine performance here, although quite similar to his many previous performances in many respects. One could say that he’s simply typecast into these roles, but he does fantastic job at portraying the normal, everyday individual. While the other characters don’t fare quite as well—with the minor exception of Masato Yano’s Yuuya—the narrative is more centered on the themes it brings forth rather than its characters. Cheers From Heaven is an inspiring film that doesn’t lean too much on its aspects of sentimentality to coerce the viewer’s sympathy, presenting a meaningful message on the power of the individual to improve and positively shape their community.
Author: Miguel Douglas
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