(IT’S HERE! This is dedicated to my dear tomodachi Bitter, who asked me to do this review.
Note: I wanted so badly for this to be the best review ever, but I wrote it in like 3 stages and reread it so many times that I can’t form a satisfied opinion of my writing now. Plus it ended up being super-long, despite my efforts to keep it brief. So yeah, if the movie doesn’t come across as amazing as it really is, blame it on me. Komene!)
Kimi ni shika kikoenai
(Random question. Why is only the first word capitalized? Everywhere I saw the title, it was written this exact same way.)
I’m going to need to try very hard to make sure this stays a ‘review’ and doesn’t become an incoherent gush-and-sob-athon. Kimi ni shika kioenai is one of those rare films that leaves you mentally paralyzed(in a good way), unable to think of anything else for quite a while. It’s romantic without seeming cheesy. It’s heartbreaking without being overbearingly agonizing. It has the innocence and heartbreak that only a young romance can possess and I loved every minute of it.
Kimi ni shika kikoenai (KNSK from here on out) is a Japanese film released in 2006 about two teens getting to know one another via mysterious ‘mental phone calls’. Both are lonely in their own way, and help each other overcome whatever obstacles they’re facing to find happiness.
The premise, on reading for the first time, seems ridiculous, but the movie is anything but. It’s quietly touching and it’s innocence and purity of feeling leaves a mark on you. Both the main characters were extremely different from one another, but both had one thing in common; they needed someone to talk to. Ryo being a lonely, withdrawn girl who’d been shunned once at an early age and thus didn’t have the confidence to speak up and make friends, and Shinya on the other side of the spectrum with a warm, beautiful smile, but an extremely lonely life since he was deaf and couldn’t speak.
Ryo seemed retarded at first. I was like, why are you such a repressed loser? No, just kidding. Well, half. She kept mumbling, and there was obviously a lot going on inside that head of her’s, including that aversion to anything piano. Thankfully, though they disclose the real reason behind her attitude, which was appropriately suited to her actions. The introduction of the cell phone toy at her end was legit creepy , the way it kept popping up and disappearing.
The film glued me with the introduction of our male lead, Shinya. I had a very bad feeling that he couldn’t talk, since he started the phone thing off without having to verbally speak, unlike Ryo, who had to speak out loud at first. The more I saw of him, the more convinced I became that he was mute, and she was the only voice he’d heard in a very long time, perhaps ever. Despite his inability to speak, he had the warmest, brightest smile, the kind that radiates out of the screen and makes you happy just looking at him. Floppy brown hair, tan skin from a hard life, expressive eyes and a perpetual smile on his face, that’s him. He was a beautiful spirit, kind and sensitive and full of life. Yes, he won me over with that very first smile. He worked as a fixer of broken things at a shoddy repair shop. He had such positivity in him, despite his condition, that all he needed to be content was to know that someone derived happiness from using the things he fixed. They were his legacies to the world. It was really sad how he was just bursting with life, yet unable to truly share it with anyone.
The setup was very compelling. Her, able to talk but with no one to listen to her, and him without the ability to talk, but people in his life willing to listen. You watch them grow closer, call each other by their first names for the first time and go on their first ‘date’ and you can tell it’s the first time for either of them. (Pardon me, but I am a sucker for high school romances). It’s always him making the first move, and her unsure, but gradually warming up to him. He’s so eager to finally get to know someone through his own words, to show a side of himself he was unable to do so before that it makes you pray and hope nothing stupid happens and ruins the film (maybe I’ve watched too many maddeningly feeble excuses keep leads apart in K-dramas)
Oh yes, there’s a small catch in the whole mental phone call phenomenon. There’s a time difference of an hour between them, with Ryo an hour ahead. I love the way they used non-verbal hints and clues to increase our curiosity about it, instead of spelling it out outright; like them confirming each other’s existence by simultaneously going to the magazine racks at their respective corner stores and asking each other what’s written on so-and-so page, while one of them is standing in daylight while the other is at the store at nighttime. I prayed fervently that this wouldn’t be another ‘The Lake House’ (The Sandra Bullock and film) with a ginormous time gap. Later, this became a lesser worry when other things that could possibly go wrong occurred to me.
Aside from the story itself, everything about this film captured me. The cinematography in particular was breathtaking. When I look back on this film, I think of beams of sunlight filtering through the clouds in the impossibly vast sky, birds chirping in the distance, lazy late afternoon sunlight in the streets. I really appreciated the filmmakers’ attention to the tiniest detail. One thing that struck me was how, when Ryu first answered the call from Shinya, his voice sounded gravelly and hoarse, like a voice that has been in disuse for a long time. I wondered to myself if it was a hobo at the other end, but it just clued us in that he just had never used his voice before.
Speaking of detail, even the way they filmed Ryu and Shinya was different, with her usually in shadows and him bathed in a halo of sunlight. I love tiny details like that. Even the music was beautifully suited to the mood of the film. It reflected the idealistic innocence and magic of youth. I don’t know anything about music, but I LOVED the background music.
The acting. The leads, Narumi Riko (who portrayed Aihara Ryo) and Koide Keisuke (who played Nozaki Shinya) were simply brilliant. Riko was only 14 when this was filmed!!! Both simply won my heart over. On watching bits of the film again while taking screencaps, I really noticed how expressive their faces were. Seamless synchronization with the words they’re ‘thinking’ made us not even notice the lack of spoken lines. Also, many teen actresses could have fake-cried and lost all sympathy, but Narumi made me cry with her. I didn’t even KNOW I had that many tears in my face, they just kept coming. THIS is also why you should watch this film when you’re alone. So no one can think you’re crazy. (My brothers would never stop making fun of me if they saw me crying)
So yeah, this film is a beautiful, beautiful piece of art, and manages to manipulate our feelings without crossing over into the realm of clichés.. If there’s one thing I hate, its drama for the sake of drama, and this movie manages not to do that at all. The reason for the separation is airtight and well-justified. The movie itself is beautiful to look at, and easy to connect with. It’s a great example of international cinema that would appeal to all die-hard romantics. The ending, though bittersweet, is in no way tragic and, in my opinion, beautifully resolved. Now beat it! Shoo! Scram! Watch this movie. Stop reading at this point.
As for you who’ve already watched it, read on. I want to dissect the ending a little.
**********LINE NOT BE CROSSED UNLESS YOU’VE WATCHED THE MOVIE*********
THE ENDING! WHOA! I knew they’d use the seemingly harmless hiccup of a time difference and slap it on our faces later. I mentioned earlier that this movie reminded me of The Lake House, where the leads were separated by a difference of years. I remembered something about that film that immediately started bothering me. I remember that Sandra Bullock’s character saw Keanu Reeves’s character die in a car accident, and wrote to him, pleading him not to cross the road. At that time, she wasn’t in any danger, and sitting peacefully across the street. This really bothered me, and as much as I enjoyed the budding teen romance I kept thinking back to that.
Now, I enjoyed The Lake House, and didn’t really understand why people were annoyed at it. How much better could the original have been? I now know about the quality of Korean filmmaking and how Hollywood remakes make drastic changes to the original plots to make them more widely appealing (read: they tear away all risk and creativity and market the highly glossed-over end product)I knew that Japanese movies in particular don’t have a very convincing streak of happy endings, so the idea that he’d die, a mere possibility that was easily walked around in the Lake House became a very real potential scenario in KNSK. It seemed such a bold move, to take it into that territory. I admired the filmmakers for it, yet simultaneously hurled curse words at them too when they finally did it.
I watched in dread as she finally went to meet him. I noticed the amount of time they were taking to reach the final meeting point and I knew there wouldn’t be anything after. I watched her get pushed out of the way of that bastard’s car and him take the bulk of the impact. I watched, shocked, but not crying (yet) as she walked over to him, and recognized him by the old wristwatch. An hour later, at the side of his now dead body in the hospital room with the life-support machines all turned off, she cries, and I cry with her. Her face captured the pain so well, I couldn’t help myself. It occurs to her to call him, since he’d still be alive by the hour-early connection. The look on his face as she tells him not to come and that she didn’t like him. Poor puppy’s face just froze. From here on out it was just a mad whirl of me screaming at the screen, begging him not to go, for any, ANY feasible reason to make him stop, despite the fact that the proof of its futility lay on the bed before her.
He goes, he dies. The symbolism of both of them recognizing the other by their watches, since time carried such an important factor in their connection, was a nice touch. Watching his final words for the first time, which I at first thought would undoubtedly be ‘I love you’ in Japanese sign language, was a heartbreaking idea in itself, but when I found out later it was ‘You are not alone’ I cried SO MUCH. OMG. How could a line transcend ‘I love you’ in epicness??? The tears were coming out so fast I stopped bothering to wipe’ em off and they trickled off my chin. Watching him die once was bad enough but noooooo, they had to do it to us again, with a voice over. And the second time definitely hurt worse.
But they soothe our wounds by giving us a non-open ending (non-open-ish, I should say). It’s a relief to know that she grows up to become a balanced individual and doesn’t commit suicide from grief or anything. I knew Harada-san knew more than she was letting on, so it was a dead giveaway towards the end that she herself was Ryo of the future.
All in all, this film is a good watch, and isn’t something you’ll forget soon. I love films that leave me going ‘What if….’ for a long time after watching it, and this one definitely falls in that category. And for that, I am thankful.