iSugio

Love for Beginners – Review

by Miguel Douglas

@isugoi

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Tsubaki Hibino is a young teenage girl with a talent for styling other people’s hair. Yet, Tsubaki suffers from low self-esteem and isn’t very comfortable styling her own hair. She also has a tendency to dress old-fashioned. She’s teased at high school because of this. One day, popular male student Kyota Tsubaki targets Tsubaki for teasing. Kyota holds sway over the entire classroom and is quite a playboy. Inexplicably they become attracted to one another. Meanwhile, Kyota’s commitment issues from the past begin to influence their relationship.

Stemming from the manga by Taeko Asano, director Takeshi Furusawa’s Love for Beginners is a film that subscribes to one of the most common of Japanese film genres- the teenage romance. With this in mind, Love for Beginners is not a film that is particularly creative or original in what it chooses to portray, relying essentially on the strength of the film’s two leads to pull it through rather than its narrative. But while the film’s narrative is not too much to write home about, it does provide some emotional depth near its conclusion, it is just one has to unfortunately through the film’s cliche-ridden first half.

Once again, Love for Beginners is a film that strictly adheres to a ‘safe’ narrative, one in which the typical boy meets the atypical girl therein leading to into the relationship theory that “opposites attract”. It should work here given that Tori Matsuzaka and Emi Takei take the helm, but the script feels too contrived and focused on the constant ups and downs of the two characters relationship. Whether this is viewed in their initial distaste for one another, to some foreseeable obstacle entering into their relationship and thus complicating it, the film does not even attempt to do anything we have seen before in other teenage-centered romance films. This factors heavy in the film’s first half, offering a narrative that is seemingly indistinctive from your standard, mediocre Japanese television drama – it is all too familiar, predictable, and extremely tedious.

Now for those viewers wanting to see the pairing of Matsuzaka and Takei once again – they have already been paired once before in the Japanese drama series Asuko March! (2011) – then Love for Beginners is a film that should appeal to them in absolute spades. From romantic kisses under  a starry twilight night, to lovingly embraces amidst pop musical montages, the film amps up the pairing of the two young stars almost unabashedly. Viewers who enjoy their pairing will certainly find no qualms with the film, but for those who could care less, Love for Beginners may appear like an elongated commercial promoting the two stars more than anything. It is certainly a film tailored for a specific audience, which again does not exactly place it in the realm of originality when it comes to its story.

Another possible problematic element of the film is that of Matsuzaka, who although relatively young in real life, looks entirely too old here as the popular teenager Kyota. He seems oddly out of place, looking much older than many of his character’s peers in the film, and perhaps most importantly, that of Takei as well. Plus, being restricted to the role of teenage love interest does not exactly fair well for both Matsuzaka and Takei, both who’ve had similar roles in the past in other films and drama series. It would be nice to see them tackle material with much more variety instead of being simply typecasted once again as they are here.

But Love for Beginners is still a film that does bring some emotional connectivity to the characters during the film’s latter half. The complications of Kyota and Tsubaki’s relationship come to a realistic conclusion, deeply affected by the decisions they make in the present and in the past. It seems real and is genuinely effective in expanding their development as characters. Unfortunately, one has to wade through the first half of a film that is too constrained and  unimaginative compared to other, more polished film dealing with teenage romances. Without the star power of Matsuzaka and Takei, the film would have certainly been a very, very unappealing viewing experience. It is a film that does not establish the acting prowess of either of its two stars, but Love for Beginners is one that knows exactly the right chords to strike given its targeted demographic.

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Author: Miguel Douglas

As an avid viewer of both Japanese animation and cinema for more than a decade now, Miguel is primarily concerned with establishing a critical look into both mediums as legitimate forms of artistic, cultural, and societal understanding. Never one to simply look at a film or series based solely on superficiality, Miguel has dedicated himself towards bringing awareness to Asian entertainment and its various facets.

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