I was guaranteed to watch this. Its anime predecessor is one of my favourite things ever (and one day I must read the award-winning original manga), so it was inevitable that I'd watch the live-action movie.
It's quite good. I prefer the anime, but I don't think that should surprise anyone. It's doing enough to justify its existence and come alive in its own right.
Tsukimi is a twenty-year-old girl with no self-esteem or social skills, who calls herself a "fujoshi" (i.e. "rotten woman"). Tomoko was watching the film too and objected to this, saying that the term implies being a fan of BL manga (i.e. "boy's love"). Tsukimi isn't that. Everyone in her boarding house is a catastrophically dysfunctional nerd who turns to stone in the presence of stylish humans, men or indeed pretty much any social contact, but they all have different obsessions.
TSUKIMI - jellyfish.
CHIEKO - traditional Japanese dolls.
MAYAYA - The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, a 14th century Chinese historical epic. She has no indoor voice and reacts to all circumstances as if she's a warrior on a battlefield.
BANBA - trains.
JIJI - has a fetish for older men, e.g. in their sixties. She also dresses like one and generally seems to be impersonating the wallpaper.
KURANOSUKE - not actually one of the Amamizu's inhabitants, but makes him/herself a fixture there whether everyone likes it or not. They don't, by the way. Kuranosuke is everything they hate. He's male. He's probably the most stylish person in Tokyo. He's got so much confidence and force of personality that it's as if he exerts his own gravitational force. However he gets away with it by: (a) befriending Tsukimi in the teeth of her protests, and (b) cross-dressing. He likes make-up and girls' clothes. It's not a sexual thing for him. It's just that he looks so fabulous as a woman that for most of the film Tsukimi's the only girl who's realised his gender.
There's a developing romance in this film, between Tsukimi and Kuranosuke, but it's not quite concluded and it's also being complicated by Kuranosuke's half-brother, Shu. That triangle was one of the best things in the film, I thought. The Shu-Tsukimi relationship is plausible and interesting in itself, while it seems clear that Tsukimi at one point had stronger feelings for Shu than she had for Kuranosuke. It's just other things happened, while of course there's the fact that Kuranosuke completely accepts her and her peculiarities, whereas Shu struggles to accept even his own half-brother. You like them all. You feel sorry for them all and you could imagine any outcome.
Just as importantly, though, Kuranosuke is a walking chrysalis. He helps people transform. He helps Tsukimi see her own potential and even sees special qualities in Mayaya. He's dragging these emotionally stunted creatures out of their holes, ignoring their kicking and screaming, and making them start to grow into human beings.
I love the story. This live-action version of it is pretty good, all things considered, although there are ways in which it can't measure up to the original. Kuranosuke himself springs to mind. Masaki Suda does very well in the role and the costume designers ensure that he always looks fabulous, but the hand-drawn original had magical qualities. Similarly the jellyfish dresses aren't quite as effective when they've had to be made for real by dressmakers. Tsukimi's first one in particular didn't work for me at all. It looks lovely in the blue-lit scene when it's hanging up, but putting a human inside it makes them look like a lollipop.
As it happens, Tomoko is unfortunately a dressmaker. She was in a forgiving mood as this is a manga adaptation and clearly not aiming at gritty realism, but even so amateurs could never have made those dresses, you don't sew on lace like that and that's absolutely not how you clean stains off a dress. The jellyfish doll-making looked unconvincing even to me. Oh, and how did they do that final fashion show? Is the Amamizu a TARDIS or did they just knock down some internal walls? How are we supposed to think they got away with keeping the audience waiting so long to see the final dress?
That said, though, the film's included deliberate touches of fantasy. Our heroes live in a fictional world of their creation, not the real world, and there are visual touches like The Little Mermaid underwater sequence and the literal petrification effect when a nerd encounters something she can't handle (i.e. almost anything).
I had a bit of trouble with Nana Katase's performance as a bitch. She's being cartoonish in a way I had to acclimatise to, even though that might sound like an odd complaint in a film like this.
The anime portrayed the Amamizu inhabitants a bit better, I think. They come alive more as individuals and we spend more time with them just goofing off. (The manga will probably do even better.) It's a question of screen time. Eleven episodes add up to more than twice as long as a 126-minute film. This feels like Kuranosuke's film as much as anyone's, whereas I think the Amamizu inhabitants are more important. They're the ones who grow. He's mostly just the catalyst.
Nonetheless I liked this movie. I'd have loved to be its costume designer, incidentally, even though I have no ambitions in that direction. Kuranosuke's outfits and the jellyfish dresses! Dreamy. I'm a fan of the original story, I thought they preserved its essence in this condensed form and I thought its cast did pretty well. It's charming and it made me laugh, but it also has a heart.