Dir: Tetsuo Shinohara. Japan. 2000. 115 mins.
Prod co: First Love Production Committee. Int'l sales: Tokyo Broadcasting System (+81 3 5571 3085). Scr: Masahiko Nagasawa. DoP: Junichi Fujisawa. Ed: Yoshiyuki Okuhara. Mus: Jo Hisaichi. Main cast: Rean Tanaka, Mieko Harada, Hiroyuki Sanada, Mitsuru Hirata, Makoto Sato, Masaki Nishina.
Pretty to look at but wafer-thin in every other respect, this type of film is naturally bound for family TV channels willing to show Japanese fare. The notion of an adolescent rekindling the fires of her mother's first love may be laudable in itself, but the treatment shows a total lack of interest in character and motivation, not to mention utter disregard for most of the details that could render some plausibility to the story.
A typical modern Japanese household falls to pieces when the mother is hospitalised with a malignant ulcer. With her father away all day, the daughter stumbles across an old unsent letter of her mother's with a photograph attached to it. This turns out to be evidence of her mother's first and never materialised, love affair. Having been recently jilted by her own boyfriend, the daughter sets about tracking down her mother's love. But when she finally finds him, he turns out to be a sad ruin - a gambling drunk in need of urgent overhaul before he can hopefully meet her mother again.
Without divulging the ending or the several melodramatic twists leading to it, it is difficult not to mention the superficiality of all the characters. Particularly in the case of the girl's father, obviously unloved by both his wife and daughter, for reasons the film does not care to reveal, but a potentially fascinating figure if anyone would have paid the slightest bit of attention to him. In a pert, spoiled-brat performance as the spirited daughter, Rena Tanaka, practically carries the entire film on her shoulders and is rarely allowed off the screen. The sympathetic presence of Mieko Harada as her mother helps, and so does the crisp photography which culminates in a cherry blossom night climax, although it is evidently not as magical as the script would like it to be. Thanks to them all, the film ends up eminently watchable but also instantly forgettable.