Featured Film Reviews
Original title: ランウェイ☆ビート | Ranwei bito | Runway Beat
Director: Kentaro Otani
Running time: 126 Min.
Cast: Koji Seto | Nanami Sakuraba | Mirei Kiritani | Imalu | Kei Tanaka | Michiko Kichise | Seiichi Tanabe | Erina Mizun
Written by: Miguel Douglas
Runway Beat – Review
by Miguel Douglas on September 26, 2011
Based on the mobile phone novel by author Maha Harada, Runway Beat tells the story of transfer student Biito “Beat” Mizorogi, a troubled youth who lost his mother when he was younger and has a conflicted relationship with his fashion mogul father. Believing that his father abandoned his ailing mother to concentrate on his own career, Beat holds a grudge against him for not being there when he needed him the most. While caring for his sickly sister, Beat must also contend with making a name for himself as fashion designer in his own regard, trying to establish himself from his father. With Beat’s talent in fashion design ever increasing, he alongside the sweet, but shy, Mei, her best friend Anna, the chic-geek Wanda and the supermodel Miki attempt to bring their class together to stage a fashion show for the school’s annual festival. With Beat facing greater odds for success or failure, he must choose his future.
With director Kentaro Otani at the helm, Runway Beat continues his streak for offering interesting yet formulaic takes on Japanese youth. With such previous films as Nana (2005), Rough (2006) and Nana 2 (2006) behind him, Runway Beat doesn’t stray too far from the beaten path in offering a rather stylized look into a niche industry such as fashion. As such, Runway Beat is simply one of those films where if a viewer’s particular interest is that of fashion, they will further appreciate the film’s focal point for adhering towards exploring the dynamics of the fashion industry—even if that exploration is somewhat diluted. As a simple narrative structure that relies on being as commercially accessible as possible, many elements within Runway Beat have been accomplished numerous times before in other, past films. And while the film does take a creative approach by placing its characters within an environment such as fashion, it still looks at common themes such as teenage love and the high school experience, all themes that subscribe to the rather tiresome approach expressed by the genre as of late.
As with his previous films, Otani attempts to center these themes within everyday activities such as baseball—as seen in Rough—or the rock music lifestyle—as seen in Nana—with the case here being the practices of young fashion artisans. As a marketing practice, this certainly elicits certain viewers who are already fond of such activities or practices to want to see the film, but as with many films within the genre, it comes at the expense of creativeness. With the continual abundance of clichéd elements plaguing the youth genre for the last several years, Runway Beat certainly can’t escape from falling into a great deal of them. These elements include the addition of romantic allusions shared between Beat and Mei that are seemingly out of place, a culminating school event that has everyone scrambling to meet its crucial impending deadline, and various implausible circumstances that are placed throughout solely for purpose of invoking a contrived sense of melodrama. The predicable nature of the film becomes quite apparent for any viewer who may have seen similar films in the past, a motion that doesn’t necessarily bring about much originality, but then again, the tried and true construction of the narrative doesn’t really warrant it.
While this may hinder the narrative of the film to certain degree, Otani does bring some depth to the film’s characters. This is especially viewed within the disconnected relationship shared by son Beat and father Hayato, which is surprisingly compelling as we see them attempt to reconcile a past misunderstanding. This look into their conflicted relationship provides the film with an emotional weight that doesn’t seem artificial or implausible given their past. These segments of the film provide the most depth, which is certainly a welcomed addition considering the genre. As for the rest of the characters, Runway Beat doesn’t necessarily grant them much time or development. Whether this is seen in the rest of Beat’s classmates or even his relationship with Mei—a character often delegated to the simple status as narrator—the film is lacking in better developing its characters. Considering that Mei does play a rather important part in the life of Beat, it’s very interesting to see her transformation from that of a character with a rather aimless existence to one of finding confidence in herself, but this transition is rather abrupt and never truly complements her as a character. Granted, while the very title of the film is a play on main character’s name, the film spends a majority of its time looking behind the scenes of the fashion world in relation to Beat’s position within it. And while the film does address certain relationships as ones that could potentially flourish, the film holds back on elaborating on them too much, with its attentiveness remaining on Beat’s endeavors.
In many respects, Runway Beat is a different film then most films within the genre because of this. While similar films may simply use a plot device such as baseball or swimming as a backdrop to a romantic comedy, Runway Beat utilizes its focus on the fashion industry to build up the relationships shared by its characters. As stated earlier, the film relies mostly on tropes expressed by many past films, including Otani’s own. With a heavy emphasis on the impact of the fashion industry itself, Otani’s film looks into the influence of such an industry in changing one’s outlook on life and their relationships to others. Since the film does stem from a mobile phone novel, it’s surprising to find such depth within a genre that doesn’t necessarily require it or falsely promotes it. This is why I find Runway Beat as a film that should appease those who are interested in its subject matter, simply because it shows the positive and negative aspects that contribute to that specific industry, aspects such as stealing designs, crafting fashion shows and even the design process as a whole.
Despite being to some extent unoriginal in its execution, many of the themes explored in Runway Beat provide the film with a more universal appeal than other genre-related films, even though fashion junkies will certainly enjoy its premise more than the average viewer. It’s not simply a tale of finding one’s call in life, love interests or the fallacies of the industry—even though the film relies heavily on these elements—it also gives considerable cinematic leverage to a specialized profession of Japanese society without overly exaggerating its importance. While Otani may appear to be playing it safe here by not venturing into new territory as a director, this is perhaps his most accomplished film within the youth genre, which is saying a lot considering he’s done several similar films previous to this one. Considering that this is based on a mobile phone novel, one shouldn’t expect the most grandiose story to unfold, and while not entirely effective in its attempt to elevate the genre, Runway Beat is still a film that does relatively well in bringing about a story that doesn’t rely solely on sentimentality or humor to appease the audience.