Tenka HashimotoMayuReiko HayamaMika Yano
Recently, My Sister Is Unusual (2014 live-action film)
Also known as: What's Going on with My Sister?
Medium: film
Year: 2014
Director: Yuki Aoyama, Iggy Coen
Original creator: Mari Matsuzawa
Writer: Iggy Coen, Takehiko Minato
Keywords: Recently, My Sister Is Unusual, fantasy, ghost, boobs
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Actor: Kazue Akita, Yuki Aoyama, Tsunanori Fukushima, Tenka Hashimoto, Reiko Hayama, Hajime Inoue, Kenji Iwatani, Yukichi Kobayashi, Ini Kusano, Mayu, Itto Shimada, Mika Yano
Format: 107 minutes
Url: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3396842
Website category: J-sleaze
Review date: 28 July 2015
Saikin Imouto No Yousu Ga Chotto Okashiinda Ga
It's both better and worse than I'd expected. It's a pink film, starring bikini models and porn stars rather than actors. Anyone who found it hard to take the inappropriate content in anime will probably keel over and die on seeing it in live-action. On the other hand, though, I think it ends up being a legitimate alternative take on the core concept.
"Pink film", by the way, is "blue movie", but it's also a bit more than that. Japanese pink films are pornographic, but often also surprisingly solid and/or interesting (if low-budget) movies that happen to include sex scenes and/or nudity. Anyway, back to Recently, My Sister Is Unusual.
The story's significantly changed, I think. Theoretically it's the same apart from the last twenty minutes, but the dramatic emphasis is so different that as far as I'm concerned it's an new story that happens to have the same plot. Mitsuki and Yuuya are still step-siblings, recently thrown together when their parents married and then immediately left the country. Hiyori's still a ghost and a sex pest, determined to have her wicked way with Yuuya. All that's the same, but Mitsuki has been reinvented from scratch. She's a different person, which is a big deal since I think her character development was the heart of the anime.
Basically, she's normal. She's not moody or emotionally withdrawn. She doesn't have trouble talking to anyone. She's an everyday Japanese schoolgirl and her interaction with Yuuya is natural from the beginning. She still has some of her anime backstory (her mother's boyfriends), but not its darkest element (the abusive father). I mourned this at first since Bottled-Up Mitsuki had given the anime its dramatic purpose, but that was a different character in a different story. This Mitsuki is both an everygirl and the main character. Yuuya's now just a supporting character in what's basically Mitsuki's story. Mitsuki and Hiyori start out on the worst possible footing, which is very understandable. If you or I did what Hiyori does to Mitsuki, we'd go to prison. Over time, though, their relationship evolves. They become best friends... and then things change further.
All this is very well done, actually, and not damaged at all by this Mitsuki having been normal from the beginning. It's the best thing in the film. The mere act of forgiving Hiyori is a bold dramatic statement by any standards, let alone what comes after.
The last twenty minutes then rewrite everything. What happened in the anime gets thrown out, in favour of something that's actually quite clever. I like what it does to Hiyori's name. I'm not sure it added much to shoehorn Yuuya into Mitsuki's backstory in order to hold out his hand and otherwise do nothing whatsoever, but I suppose it would have felt more meaningful with better actors.
In principle, that's a good story. I like it. I particularly appreciated the ending, which (like the anime) is deliberately turning away from its own genre. That surprised and impressed me.
Unfortunately we have two big problems. Firstly, the acting.
To be fair to them, the cast are often quite decent for amateurs. They haven't trained. They haven't done drama school. I don't like it, but I can acknowledge when someone's doing well by their lights. Tenka Hashimoto is always clear in distinguishing Mitsuki and Hiyori-Mitsuki, while she does quite a lot of good, natural work opposite both co-stars. She's capable of subtlety. She was a child star, for what it's worth. Both she and Yuukichi Kobayashi (Yuuya) can work well in conversational scenes. Their heart-to-heart when they're trapped in the bathroom together was particularly good, I thought, especially since that scene's so important to the film.
Give them material that requires acting muscles, though, and they fail hard. Hashimoto is merely bad. I could forgive her. Kobayashi though is so wooden that you'll get splinters. He can't do dramatic reaction shots to save his life, although in fairness he does suddenly find some energy in one scene halfway through where his character's play-acting as a tough guy. Nonetheless there was one scene (1h 24m) where I was wondering if we were meant to think that the character had gone catatonic. His naked sister has jumped on top of him, but he seems to be trying to remember where he left his car keys.
The anime's Mitsuki was played by another Hashimoto, incidentally, but I presume they're unconnected. That was Chinami Hashimoto.
As for Mayu as Hiyori, she's more consistent than the other two, but in a simpler role. She basically just has to be a bimbo, which is something that both she and Hashimoto do very, very well. Her worst crime is the odd moment of ham. Mind you, is it just me or is she kind of scary? If you saw her coming in a J-horror movie, you'd run a mile.
As for Mika Yano, there's nothing wrong with her. She's just miscast in a minor role and being forced to play a couple of beats that make her character look sleazy and/or a moron. She looks wrong for Yuki-nee, not having the figure and huge boobs that the script says she has. (She's also the only hardcore porn star in the cast, although one of the two directors is a pornographer too.)
Then we have the sexual content, which can be tough going.
The film opens with Mitsuki approaching Yuuya with sexual intent. It looks like J-horror and the scene later seems to imply that Yuuya is capable of not noticing that his penis is inside a girl. The lesbian rape scene is far harder to watch than it was in the anime, here being unambiguously and distressingly a rape even if Mitsuki seems to get over it quickly afterwards. It's no consolation at all that Mitsuki sort of returns the favour later in a gratuitous lesbian porntacular with CGI genital fogging, ending with the girls squirting in each other's faces. (That's consensual. It's also the only point where the plot stops outright for the sake of softcore pornography. You can certainly read character significance into the scene, but you'd need your eyes closed to deny that it's been shot and edited as wank material.)
Oh, and Hiyori's usual outfit is a see-through nightdress. That's very Hiyori, though.
If you can take all that, then you might find that this is otherwise quite a good film... but that's a far tougher "if" than it was for the anime. The sleaze is nastier and far more blatant, while terrible acting kills scenes in a way with no anime equivalent. It can also be silly, e.g. Yuuya apparently drowning in knee-high water. However the film calms down and becomes more likeable in the second half, once Mitsuki and Hiyori have shagged and become friends. Besides, at root it's a strong story.
I should also mention that the humiliation sex comedy can actually be funny. Perhaps it shouldn't be, but it is. The urination scene is uncomfortable and disturbing, but the payoff when Yuuya inevitably walks in is a killer. The three-way sex comedy scene between Yuuya, Mitsuki and Mitsuki at 20 minutes is where I thought the film started coming alive. There's also non-sex comedy, thankfully.
I have a theory about Kobayashi's performance, by the way. It would be possible to argue that his wooden acting reflects his character's inability to handle Mitsuki and/or female sexuality. Thus when his performance improves in the second half of the film, maybe that's because the character's getting used to his sister.
Alternatively, it would explain a lot if Yuuya were gay. Might this pink film actually might be all about gay subtext? On reflection, I like that idea a lot. You could write a book just on Mitsuki/Hiyori.
To be honest, it took me quite a while to like this film. There's a lot to dislike in the first half, some of it violently. I was also in mild shock at what they'd done to Mitsuki's characterisation. I'm sure I'd like the film better on a rewatch, although I'm also pretty sure that the number of people who'd be willing to rewatch it will be low. Well, apart from those performing a five-knuckle salute. That said, though, I've just talked myself into thinking it's quite good. I like where they take the story. I like Mitsuki's character development and her evolving relationships with both Hiyori and Yuuya. They've cut down the supporting cast, i.e. no Shoutarou/Moa, but I can accept that. It's definitely one of the better pink films I've seen... but only when it's not being offensive and/or terrible.