JMovie Review: Kinkyori Renai

Kinkyo Renai, aka Close Rang Love/Short Distance Love, is a 2014 movie starring ex-News member Yamashita Tomohisa and Komatsu Nana. This movie is based on a manga series of the same name by Mikimoto Rin which was serialized from 2008 to 2011. I do not think this was one manga series that I read, so I wasn’t really expecting anything nor can I tell you how it compares. I can tell you that while I did like the movie overall, it did seem like there was some significant plot holes. I don’t know if this is because they were abbreviating the storyline or if the storyline itself was that much like Swiss cheese.Yamashita Tomohisa, Komatsu Nana

Our main setting is a high school. The story revolves around the emotionally repressed senior Kururugi Yuni (Komatsu Nana) who excels in every subject except English. It was always her dream to study under a famous science professor who teaches at a university in California, but she gave up that dream since her English sucks. Enter in new English teacher Sakurai Haruki (Yamashita Tomohisa). Since his is the only class she’s doing poorly in, he takes it upon himself to tutor her one-on-one which angers her since she does not like him, and upsets other classmates with giant crushes. Through their study sessions, Yuni begins to experience new feelings and must discover what to do when her first love happens to be her teacher. We also have Sakurai struggling to come to terms with his own feelings and proving to Yuni that his are real and unchanging despite the fact this is a forbidden relationship. Add in Yuni’s guardian who is a family friend and fellow teacher and Sakurai’s ex-girlfriend and childhood friend, plus a male student who falls for Yuni, and the road to love is definitely not smooth.

Imagine one of the worst actresses in the world. They are blank-faced and cannot deliver lines with any believability and you essentially have the character of Kururugi Yuni. She really keeps all of her feelings inside and never expresses any emotions in her voice or her expressions. If you do watch her carefully, you will find she does express emotions in different ways, such as rubbing the cat head on her favorite hairpin, clenching her skirt in her fist, and clutching at her ear. I give major props to Komatsu Nana. She does a marvelous job at playing Kururugi with her little tells, but overall blankness. Think about how hard it must be to act a part and not show any expression? You know that Kururugi is not the result of bad acting, but deliberate acting when you see Kururugi blossoming and showing emotions. It’s amazing! It really is. Overall, I think Komatsu really did a smashing job with the material.

Yamashita Tomohisa. Yamapi. I used to good naturedly talk about how he was an idol who could not really act. Aside from some standout roles in Nobuta wo Produce and Kurosagi, you really don’t get much out of him. He’s played a lot of wacky characters like Akira from Nobuta so it does get old, especially because they didn’t really hold the spark that you could see there. Kurosagi was actually very well done in terms of acting. Yamashita really does play the same types of characters over and over and they are all never truly expressed quite well. It’s like there isn’t as much emotion as there could be. While his acting still isn’t perfect by any means, I really feel that his Sakurai Haruki was a step above some of his earlier roles since we, or rather I, managed to get more of an emotional connection out of this role. There were still some times where his acting did go a bit flat, but I really was pleasantly surprised by just how well he did in the role of a teacher conflicted with his feelings for his student.

There was supporting cast, but, in all honesty, the majority of scenes were focused on Sakurai and Kururugi with our minor players stepping in from time to time. I think the acting overall from the ensemble cast was okay. There were no scene stealers or anything like that for me, but that’s fine.

Hirofumi Arai plays Kururugi’s guardian Akechi Kazuma. Her parents are doing work out of the country so they left her in his care. I think Hirofumi has played similar roles before and there really isn’t much to him. The character and the acting is simple and straightforward until we get to the big reveal of the relationship (which actually wasn’t all that big mind you). Haruki’s friend who is a new teacher or a student teacher…not quite sure which…discovers the illicit relationship on her first day of work and eventually takes photo evidence and shows it to the worried Akechi who has noticed Yuni’s erratic behavior (which really means her taking a renewed interest in cooking despite exams coming up and her rereading her favorite professor’s books over and over again). Akechi, to head off the situation, tries to convince Yuni once more to pursue her dream of studying in the US. We get a huge burst of anger when she rejects him (she wasn’t in the room) and that was the most emotion you see from him, but I’m confused by such an outburst when he himself seems calm and under control. It makes you wonder if he had any feelings besides brotherly or if he really was just super mad about such a complicated situation that could ruin Yuni’s life. Since he’s not a father or brother…it’s up in the air as to the reason behind this explosion.

Mizukawa Asami plays Sakurai’s ex-girlfriend Takizawa Mirei and at times she just feels so superfluous. Like did the new teacher really have to be a good friend and ex to Sakurai? This adds in a layer of jealousy which sends Takizawa to confess to Akechi, but I don’t really think this part is developed enough for whatever reason. It’s mainly just pointless screen time with her. It was hilarious when she tries to do “girl talk” with Kururugi about the situation with Sakurai and Kururugi is her usual blank-faced self.

Kotaki Nozomu plays Kururugi’s same-age love interest Matoba Ryu. He falls hard for her after she saves his journal from being read by fellow students. Kotaki’s acting was really representative of a young teenage male. He has a dream which can be scoffed at since it is not manly, so he hides it, but thanks to Kururugi, he can open up about his dreams to someone and this interests her because he’s going full steam towards his dream while she gave up on her own. It’s actually thanks to his presence that Sakurai finally breaks down and gives into the fact he is hopelessly in love with a student. I also like that Matoba is fully aware of the feelings between the two, but does nothing underhand about it and keeps back out of their way until Sakurai hurts Yuni by breaking up with her and that earns the teacher a punch from our young man.

Kururugi does have a good friend (really her only one) played by Yamamoto Mizuki. Again, not a ton of screen time, but we get to learn that Kururugi has at least been like she is since middle school and for whatever reason, Nanami has always stood by her. Thanks to Nanami, Kururugi understands her own feelings of love at long last and plus understands the pain of keeping secrets and the strain it places on friendships. We also get to see a tiny bit of Nanami’s new boyfriend Sato Saki (Sano Kazuma), but again, we don’t get much time from him either.

What I find frustrating about this drama is we discover Sakurai’s dark past, but learn nothing of Yuni’s past at all. His father always wore a smile and told tall tales to his children, but was really hiding depression thanks to the enormous pressure at work. Sakurai’s father eventually kills himself and you know that Sakurai’s interest in Yuni did stem from that he could read the same hidden feelings in her that he used to see in his father. That could possibly be why he was so forceful in getting her to take the extra lessons as well as lecture her constantly about expressing herself openly.

I’m glad that we learn why Sakurai really hasn’t felt love and hates liars and has a general interest to start, don’t get me wrong. But all we get about Yuni is that she has been stoic on the outside since middle school. There’s a story there. There has to be, right? Especially since Akechi approaches Sakurai about the extra lessons and tells him that Yuni is a good girl and was once really charming and cute. Okay, so what happened to change her so much that she has problems expressing how she really feels to others? I really wish this was addressed because I think it could be relevant overall.

As for the romance. It is believable enough. I think the biggest problem is we see Kururugi Yuni’s feelings and thoughts more so than Sakurai’s. Thus her development from “hatred” towards her English teacher to love made sense since we saw the progress and just how lost she was at what she should be doing. With Sakurai, you can seem some development, but I’m not 100% convinced on the believability of his feelings at the start. He’s a bit two-faced, not in a horrible way per se. Towards his students he will smile and seem charming, but he’s a bit more stoic than what he really portrays in his work setting. With his interest in Yuni and working with her, you see him opening up a bit, but again, not sure you can really see that development which leads up to a shocking first kiss (Yuni hides under his lecture podium with a notebook saying she thinks she loves him, so what should she do and this has him drop a pen and plant one on her) and has him decide that marriage is the only way to prove the fact he truly loves her.

Oh, and on the topic of marriage. Really? A seventeen or eighteen-year-old needs proof of sincerity and that’s what you can offer? They haven’t even dated yet and you can truly understand why Yuni (and even Sakurai) are reluctant to believe the longevity of the others’ feelings, but marriage? I’m sorry, I probably would have headed for the hills as it is way too sudden and serious for a person at that age. I don’t care how mature people think they are, that’s still too young in this day and age to commit like that. However, after the shock has worn off, Yuni quickly agrees! And thus a secret relationship kept from everyone is born. Shakes head. And by secret…that really is all it is. No romantic trysts really or any signs of a relationship. They decided to be together and Sakurai is patiently waiting while our poor Yuni is so confused when she sees all the lovey dovey couples around her.

No story about a teacher-student relationship would be complete without someone giving up something. In order to make certain that Yuni does not give up on her dream, Sakurai lies and says his love is over. Kururugi is in excruciating pain over this, especially since she knows he’s lying. Aigoo. Noble idiocy, but it was what she needed to get her to do what she really wanted with her life instead of becoming an instant haus frau after high school graduation. Of course the movie ends with Kururugi taking a break from school to come to Sakurai and tell him that one of his father’s tall tales indeed had some truth to it (a very rare blue sunset). Thus they go to their special beach and confess their feelings yet again and they are on the road to marriage once more.

This is definitely a sweet love story and I love watching Kururugi develop and learn to express herself the most. Yamapi was born in ’85 and Komatsu in ’96 so their age gap really did fit the story line. It did not feel strained or awkward, so that was definitely a plus. Because of this age gap…and because this is an Asian high school oriented movie, the kiss is just a mere pressing of the lips together, but I think it really suited the situation this time as we are dealing with a young girl in the throes of first (and only) love along with a man who, while he has been in relationships, he’s never initiated physical contact and was never emotionally invested.

Give this a watch. Then go try out the drama version which gives you the back story of Sakurai. Again, why no back story for Kururugi?


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