iSugio

Calligraphy Girls!! – Our Koshien – Review

by Miguel Douglas

@isugoi

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Satoko is the granddaughter of a calligraphy master living in an old factory town. A talented calligrapher, she’s only interested in getting the individual prize in the annual inter-school calligraphy tournament rather than getting the glory for her school with the fellow members of the school club. Her philosophy changes with the arrival of the club’s new advisor Ikezawa, who comes up with the idea of turning calligraphy into extravagant performance in order to gather popularity. Finding this suggestion rather informal considering the craft, Satoko is slowly inspired by Ikezawa and her club mates, especially Kiyomi who wants to utilize this new approach towards calligraphy to rejuvenate her family’s stationary shop.

Tales of triumphing over adversity has increasingly become a trend within Japanese cinema over the years. A majority these films center on a collective group of diverse individuals coming together in order to perform some miraculous feat of musical, recreational, or scholastic perseverance. While overly sympathetic towards presenting both the optimism and difficulty of such a journey, most films dealing with such material have become rather trite examples of the stagnation concerning such a formula—effectively becoming entirely too dependent on coercing the emotional response from the viewer. While Ryuichi Inomata’s Calligraphy Girls!! attempts to liven up the formula by focusing on the world of Japanese calligraphy, the film retreads similar material viewed in other films albeit in a somewhat different manner.

Those familiar with the art form of Japanese calligraphy certainly knows it’s a very demanding practice, with countless hours spent perfecting one’s craft. Calligraphy Girls!! does exceptionally well in showcasing this element, focusing primarily on the reliance of group effort as well as the individual in order to succeed. While similar films might feel the need to stylize such things—which no doubt this film does to such a degree—here we see the practicality of it in all its glory. This is one thing I found endearing about the film, alongside its showcasing of youthful participation within an art form that has existed for thousands of years as well. These aspects of the film were particularly riveting to watch, even if one is unfamiliar with the tradition of calligraphy. And while other films have dealt with calligraphy before, many have never approached it quite like this—especially within the scholastic sense and viewed as an outlet for recreational creativity. This combination certainly elevates the film regarding its premise and warrants some praise for originality—far from the conventional path the remainder of the film seemingly sadly adheres to though.

Stemming from this simple premise, the film introduces characters that are likeable and certainly feasible concerning the roles they are portraying. Perhaps the most exceptional actress would be the film’s lead, played here by Riko Narumi.  While an actress I certainly enjoy watching within other films, her role here is rather subdued in order for the other cast members to shine through. This was a very interesting decision to see, mainly because Riko has taken the spotlight in numerous other films she has acted in. Her presence here is still strong, but the supporting cast members are equally as valued as contributing elements towards the plot, each with their own background and development. This is where I believe Calligraphy Girls!! truly gathers its strength as a film that doesn’t rely entirely on comedic gags to make up for the lack of such development to formulate. Its combination of character development and sincerity really garners the film a sense of movement and purpose—unlike many other films that rely mostly on comedy while having its musical, recreational or scholastic endeavors become a mere superficial plot device to promote yet another tired narrative.

While these elements do contribute to the overall structure of improving the film, one slowly discovers that for all the sincerity and development offered throughout, the film simply can’t support its lack of originality. We’ve all seen this narrative before, and while Inomata steadily attempts to offer something new to a rather tired formulaic process, the results don’t fair too well in terms of creativity. While this doesn’t greatly hamper what the story offers as is, it does remove the potentiality for the film to reach considerable heights in establishing itself as a film that can stand above the rest. While the elements are there—and considering the sporadic moments of ingenuity showcased—the film ultimately decides to settle upon a cliché-ridden narrative that doesn’t allow its subject material to completely flourish. One would have like to have seen this opportunity to explore the realm of youth and calligraphy with more concernment and exploration, but it sadly declines to do so.

Ultimately though, Calligraphy Girls!! remains a very unique premise for a film—even if its approach is somewhat exhausted as of late. The cast remains a strong and essential asset towards the story, which is certainly interesting due to the exceptional depth that is allowed to them as individuals—and certainly a far cry from some of the handling of characters viewed in other films. One often doesn’t see such considerable focus on its characters with regards to such a formulaic approach, but here the film attempts heavily to do so. Perhaps with less emphasis on trying to follow other successful narratives of yesteryear, Calligraphy Girls!! would have established itself separate from the rest of the pack. While we may ultimately root for their perseverance, the familiarity of it all seemingly diminishes its final impact. Calligraphy Girls!! overall remains a very engaging film concerning the material it addresses though, and its uniqueness in many respects saves it from floundering completely. Hopefully we can see this attentiveness further explored in future films dealing with similar subjects, with Calligraphy Girls!! remaining an example of such possibilities, but still not quite there yet in terms of maturity nor creativity.

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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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