Tenshi no Koi – Review
by Miguel Douglas on May 15, 2010
17-year-old high school student Rio is always the center of attention due to her beauty. Yet, Rio has never cared about anyone but herself due to her traumatic past. Her friends and boyfriends exist only so she can use them for her gains and she is only interested in attaining money. Then one day she meets 32-year college professor Ozawa Kouki and falls in love for the first time. Intrigued by his personality and demeanor, Rio becomes attracted to Kouki and learns what it means to cherish a fragile life and how important it is to treat others the way one wants to be treated. Although Kouki becomes interested in Rio as well, there is a reason he can’t pursue the relationship. He learns that he is diagnosed with malignant brain tumor, and it leaves him with only a few years to live.
Stemming from the ever-so popular cell phone novels that have taking Japan by storm in recent years, Tenshi No Koi is yet the latest film to deliver a story dealing with both love and loss. Considering the immense popularity this formula has had with people within Japan, it should come at no surprise that this film explores similar themes as viewed in other cell phone novel-to-film adaptations, most recently that of Akai Ito and Koizora. Considering this, it’s probably sufficient to say that with popularity eventually comes an oversaturation of that presented ideal or theme—in this case the love/loss dynamic so often conveyed within these types of films. While people might certainly enjoy the repetitious nature of such films, it soon becomes almost exploitative in a sense—more so trendy—to constantly elaborate on the same themes within films and just switching the variables up to make it appear different from others.
Indeed, Tenshi No Koi starts off rather promising—particularly for fans of Nozomi Sasaki. Nozomi does of a fantastic job of firstly portraying the cruel and emotionless Rio, whose sole goal is to accumulate money—to the eventual individual who opens up her feelings and truly cares for the wellbeing of others. Her emotional transformation process throughout is truly engaging, mainly because this is Nozomi’s first lead role in a film. Considering the wide emotional range for her character, she plays it exceptionally well given her relatively new status as an actor. Her love interest in the film, Kouki—played by Shosuke Tanihara—is quite the opposite of her character emotionally. While Rio subscribes to a certain level of egotism, she still remained cheery and emancipated throughout, which is unlike the gloomy and depressing Kouki. Considering the burden of illness he carries in the film, this was completely understandable, but it comes off as a surprise given the establishment of their relationship. The fruition of it comes in the most steadfast ways, and its really disjointing to see how these two individuals connected personally without the obvious forced narrative devices. Their chemistry just isn’t there, mainly because their contrasting personalities don’t allow it to be.
But for what it’s worth, Tenshi No Koi does attempt some new directions in handling its material. For one, the taboo subject of student-teacher relationships is explored. Unlike its predecessors—which concerned individuals around a similar age—Tenshi No Koi showcases a love story centering on two people with significant age differences. While the film plays around with this concept, it’s never portrayed for the sake of realism. Similar realistic themes are explored as well, including that of compensated dating, suicide, and abortion, but never to the extent that one would hope. In fact, most of these themes seem to only further contrive the plot more so than it already is. If the film is stretching for some sort of plausibility—considering the wide range of modern topics it touches upon—the melodramatic inserts do nothing but attempt to derive some sort of forced emotional response from the audience. This would certainly affect many individual viewers who enjoy these types of films, but it presents a haphazardly constructed narrative that attempts to fit too much in without fully resolving any of it in a naturalistic manner. In the end, the film is attempting to present a believable story, but does it in the most unbelievable fashion. I understand that a certain suspension of belief is common in specific films like these—most certainly ones that originate from cell phone novels, where pure coincidence and destiny always seem to clash with the audience—but here, its heavy reliance on coincidental moments to promote the plot remove some of the plausibility that was needed to reinforce it.
Believability aside, Tenshi No Koi is still a beautifully shot film with some consistent acting on part from its two protagonists. For such a diverse role, Nozomi Sasaki handles it with the utmost care. I would enjoy seeing her in future roles, mainly because her acting here shows that she can handle herself well given the complexities of her character. And while Tenshi No Koi does try it hardest to differentiate itself from other films, it soon befalls to the same formulaic approach in the end—and what’s sad is that it starts off so promising. I would have expected more given the interesting first half, but it sadly decides to play it safe by rapidly closing all subplots to make way for some intensive—and constrained—melodrama. Still, Tenshi No Koi should please fans of Nozomi Sasaki and viewers who enjoy a formulaic approach to their love stories—just don’t go in looking for too much originality.