If the name Takehiko Shinjo doesn't ring a bell, it's because the man usually limits himself to a type of film that has a hard time establishing itself outside of Japan. Romance isn't the most challenging genre to begin with and it gets especially flaky when dramatic arcs are replaced by cutesy feel-good. And yet, when done with as much conviction as here, these films can be pretty charming in their own right. Tada, Kimi Wo Aishiteru (Heavenly Forest) is clearly one of the better entries in the genre.
For a country that cherishes "Kawai~~~" as one of its most recognizable catch phrases, it's not too surprising to find a whole genre of films infused with cuddly cuteness. Many of these films fail to land international attention and are probably better off because of it, but some films are actually worth checking out. Be prepared though and leave all your cynical and critical thinking behind because when you enter the sugarcoated world of the Japanese feel-good romance there is only room for the sweet, the cute and the naive.
The film follows Makoto, a young boy caught between the blossoming love of two women. The first girl is Miyuki, Makoto's classmate and longtime crush. To his surprise Miyuki invites him to join her table, effectively introducing him into her circle of friends. The second girl is Shizuru, a somewhat peculiar girl who has no friends and spends most of the time by herself. When one day Makoto helps her out she clings to him, determined to keep him as close to her as humanly possible.
Even though Makoto is ecstatic to finally join Miyuki and her friends, he also develops a close and personal connection with Shizuru. Things get more and more complicated, especially when Shizuru elopes from her home and moves in with Makoto. The typical romantic struggles pop up and for a while it feels as if you've all seen it before, until the film twists around and the love triangle is suddenly falling apart, leaving the trio unsure of how to proceed.
Visually there is plenty to be excited about. As a small part of the film is set in America, it's fun to see a different perspective on the typical American urban settings. The biggest part of the film is set in Japan though, where the titular forest takes up most of the visual credit. Extremely idyllic and the perfect location for what ends up to be the key scene of this film. The camera work and the editing are typically soft and controlled, making sure that there is no jerkiness whatsoever to break the film's perfect little wold.
The soundtrack is exactly what you may expect from a film like this. Littered with soft-natured piano tunes, never taking any risks and always wary of alienating the viewer. Add some J-Pop closure and all the clichés are accounted for. It's not very challenging, but nonetheless it's a decent soundtrack that's quite successful in its mission.
Part of why this film works so well is Miyazaki's terrific performance. Hiroshi Tamaki and Meisa Kuroki are both pretty decent, but never really convince as a screen couple. It's clear that the both of them aren't very gifted actors and get by mostly on looks. Miyazaki plays the most difficult part, but she makes it appear as if it's all terribly easy. It's her character that lifts you through the film, keeping the feel-good from turning into bad-tempered sentiment and adding immensely to the overall cuteness-level of Tada, Kimi Wo Aishiteru.
While the final act of the film takes a more dramatic turn, it hardly effects the easy feel-good nature of the film. Sure there is some room for tears if you're into that, but Tada, Kimi Wo Aishiteru is never hard to stomach or depressing, instead it highlight the preferred Japanese way of handing drama by coming to terms with certain regrettable events. It makes for a beautiful (though somewhat unhealthy if judged by realistic standards) ending.
Tada, Kimi Wo Aishiteru is a sweet, cute, good-natured and hopelessly naive little film. If you can't stomach that it's best to avoid it altogether, as Shinjo is determined not to let anything spoil the film's good mood. If you want a feel-good breather though, it's the perfect film for some light and uplifting entertainment. Skillfully executed, charming and overdosing on the idealistic, it's not the biggest master piece ever made, but a damn sweet and fun film nonetheless.