Movie Review, Shunji Iwai

April Story (1998) by Shunji Iwai

Original Name: Shigatsu Monogatari

Director:  Shunji Iwai

Debut at: Mar 1998 (67 min)

Country: Japan (Japanese)

IMDB Link:

If I hadn’t known this film beforehand, I could’ve easily mistaken this first half as a Koreeda’s film, with its focus on laidback atmospheric tone than narrative. It’s a slice of life story as its core, detailing, in its measured pace, Uzuki (Takako Matsu) as she leaves her hometown Hokkaido for a college in Tokyo. Iwai’s best strength is more than relevant here: April Story flows like a warm music piece. We starts with the protagonist’s point of view when her family members greet her in the train station (which are Matsu’s real family members). As she settles down to her new apartment, we see her getting accustomed to this new life: meeting new friends at school, visiting the local bookstore, exchanging words with her neighbor. Unlike the gritty Swallowtail, there’s rose-tinted color vibe that exist everywhere in April Story, which is helped by the cherry blossoming (another symbolic image for growing).

What April Story is extremely good at is how it depicts Uzuki’s navigation to the everyday life, from something as quiet and insignificant like her watching a samurai film in the cinema, exploring the city, running away from a creepy man, learn fishing. sharing a curry meal with her neighbor… it’s unassuming but it’s real, melancholy and fluffy in every way possible. It’s until much later we learn the reason why she decided to study in this big city, and the film, like a waltz, shifts slowly to the romance piece that is equally heart-warming and soothing. Uzuki is a kind of character we love to get behind. She isn’t the most complex characters and her shy manner can be a bit too much, but when we learn how she’s determined to pursue her dream of attending certain Tokyo’s college, she already wins our heart over. “It’s a miracle that she got enrolled”, her homeroom teacher said, in which she thinks “I want to call it a miracle of love”. That miracle of love turns out to be just this simple.

Clocking at a mere 67 minutes, we clearly just experienced a tiny slice of Uzuki’s life. It’s a bit of a shame because I won’t mind to get dipped more into this world. April Story is a drama that don’t really feel like drama, in which it has an optimistic outlook and all the threads are just barely touched and hanging there, just like how life is. Her crush might be the main reason she decides to go to Tokyo, but it’s her experience with the people around her, and her slowly adapting to the new environment (the early scenes where she’s alone to this new place struck a familiar chord to me) that ultimately define her growing up. April Story captures perfectly the new beginning of all kinds from this young girl in a new city.

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