iSugio

Paradise Kiss – Review

by Miguel Douglas

@isugoi

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Yukari Hayasaka is a high school student who has become tired of her life of constant schooling. She then comes across a group of student fashion designers in need of a model for their “Paradise Kiss” clothing label. Yukari knows nothing about the fashion world and is taken back by the group’s eccentric ways, but she soon comes to admire their free thinking ways and ability to pursue their dreams with a one track mind.

Stemming from the popular manga series by Ai Yazawa, Paradise Kiss is the latest manga to live-action adaptation deriving from the author’s work. Her perhaps more popular manga series, Nana, was also produced and released in two subsequent live-action films—Nana (2005) and Nana 2 (2006)—with its premise surrounding a relationship between two young women with polar opposite personalities. Like the dual Nana films, Paradise Kiss is also a film that subscribes to the youth-genre, a genre that usually relies on a narrative that is out of the ordinary and certainly exaggerated. With director Takehiko Shinjo at the helm—also the adamant director of previous youth-oriented films such as Heavenly Forest (2006) and I Give My First Love to You (2009)—Takehiko successfully brings all the magical imagery and fantasy-like qualities envisioned within the manga series into this live-action adaptation with considerable ease. For the most part, these elements of a manga series don’t always necessarily translate well within the confinement of a live-action film, but Paradise Kiss takes considerable caution to have the look and feel of the manga series remain consistent throughout, with the extravagant personalities and circumstances of the characters being ever present—whether these stems from expensive cars, penthouse suites or tailored attire for our characters—with the exception of our protagonist Yukari, a common girl with not much aspirations besides getting good grades in school.

In many ways, Paradise Kiss is a play on our perceived notions of fitting within societal boundaries even when it makes us unhappy, therein realizing that we must find our own calling instead of simply falling in line. This premise remains a steady factor throughout the film, with Yukari being viewed as an individual, who at first, is essentially living through the wishes of her mother and not her own. With the continued comparison to her considerably more intelligent younger brother by her mother, Yukari constantly has to keep up a rather superficial appearance of courage and perfection within her academics. We see that Yukari has been consistently pressured from an early age to perform well in school in order to appease her mother—which is where we find her in the beginning of the film—and clearly not enjoying the experience. She has become yet another member of the crowd and not willing to forge her own path. This remains the focal point of the film, in that it relies on the traditional notion of being self-motivated and living your life on your own accord rather than through others. With Yukari, we see her slowly begin to unwind the conventional barriers that have been put in placed before her in an attempt to find her true calling within life, with the film appealing to the most basic maxim of our need to find happiness through self-determination—and where the Paradise Kiss clothing group remains a prime example of living out those desires.

But while Yukari becomes slowly starts to become of the group’s newfound members—acting as their primary model for clothing—her relationship towards them is certainly a bumpy one. Paralleling her take on life with that of Paradise Kiss front man Jouji “George” Koizumi, the two couldn’t be far enough from one another personality-wise, but this approach allows the film to work out an understanding between the characters that is mutual and believable. Granted, while Yukari’s rise through the fashion world may not be entirely conceivable given her rather short time within the group—where we see very little as to her metamorphosis from grumpy high school student to established model—but her portrayal by actress Keiko Kitagawa carries the film. While the narrative doesn’t show as much given her transformation between the two lifestyles, Keiko does a fantastic job of acting each part out with considerable confidence. Whether this is her disregard and annoyance for the Paradise Kiss clothing group in the beginning—with a particularly humorous scene shared between her and Jouji as he comes to pick her up at school with his Jaguar vehicle and fancy attire—to her moments as a renowned model just looking for guidance, Keiko really does complement the character of Yukari as viewed in the manga. This also extends to rest of the cast as well, in particular Osamu Mukai as Jouji. He, like Keiko, does an adequate job conveying the nature of Jouji’s situation and the conflictions that come with following his dream in becoming a fashion designer.

Considering that Paradise Kiss is a film that subscribes to the youth genre, the film does focus around the idea of education. The film takes an interesting approach though by not simply stating that learning takes place only within a rudimentary environment such as school, but also suggesting that learning can occur outside of that environment as well. This leads to an interesting dynamic within the plot that has Yukari contemplating leaving her traditional high school environment in order to pursue her newly established love for fashion, a move that is often seen as taboo within most other films. While not expressed to the degree as to suggest that traditional schooling is irrelevant, it does again harp on the idea of self-determination in choosing the path of one’s own life, in this case Yukari’s willingness to find her individuality. With a focus on the fashion industry—similarly to Kentaro Otani’s Runway Beat (2011) released the same year—the film is certainly appealing to fashion enthusiasts to a certain degree, but it leans more on showcasing Yukari’s and Jouji’s blossoming relationship towards the end. This decision forces the film to become somewhat contrived, and while the film’s ending does differ from that of the manga series in that it neatly attempts to resolve everything, it simply appears as way to fashion its ending around New York City—a move that also unnecessarily stretches out its running time for the sake of showcasing the city.

Overall, Paradise Kiss is a film that should definitely appeal to the demographic it entails to, as well as being viewed as a complementary treatment of the source material. Besides the film’s rather strained ending revolving around the relationship between Yukari and Juoji, the film offers a very nice look into entrepreneurship and the dedication needed to alter one’s path in life. While these themes may at times become engulfed under the film’s melodramatic conclusion, they still remain a great example within a genre that often times focuses entirely on establishing a flimsy love tale around a superficial and gimmicky premise. While the film does indeed endorse this approach in some capacity, it doesn’t forget about the intricacies of its premise for the sake of simply having a loving relationship form between the two leads. With an aesthetically pleasing cast, a great performance by Keiko Kitagawa, and an appreciated effort towards remaining faithful to the manga series, Paradise Kiss is a film that may have some hiccups, but ultimately remains a great tribute to one of Ai Yazawa’s more popular works.

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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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