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Angel's Egg
Japanese: Tenshi no Tamago
Manami Konishi
Year: 2006
Director: Shin Togashi
  Cast: Hayato Ichihara, Manami Konishi, Erika Sawajiri, Tomokazu Miura, Kazuma Suzuki, Keiko Toda
The Skinny: An art school hopeful falls for his girlfriend's older sister in this involving, if excessively formulaic "pure love" story.
  Review by Calvin McMillin:

     Directed by Shin Togashi, Angel's Egg undoubtedly belongs to the ridiculously popular "pure love" subgenre of romantic movies that have flooded Asian movie theatres in recent years. As I've detailed in past reviews, the plots of these films are rather simple: boy meets girl, love blooms, and tragedy ensues. The latest tearjerker, Angel's Egg, does little in the way of genre manipulation or innovation, although it does have a kind of charm all its own.
    Based on the novel by Yuka Muruyama, this 2006 big screen adaptation centers on a talented young artist named Ayuta Ipponyari (Hayato Ichihara). He has big dreams of pursuing a career in art despite the depressing fact that no one around him - even those who love him - seems keen on the idea. His faithful girlfriend Natsuki Saito (Erika Sawajiri) has dreams of her own, but those mostly involve wedded bliss for the two of them. It's initially unclear whether Ayuta shares these ambitions, and their young love is tested early on in the most surprising of ways.
     One fateful day, Ayuta pushes his way into a crowded subway car. Just as the door is about to close, a beautiful passenger (Manami Konishi) attempts to enter as well, and Ayuta makes room for her to board the train. Not only does he become immediately smitten by this rare beauty, but he is artistically inspired by her as well. This gorgeous stranger causes Ayuta to crack open his sketchbook and get to the business of drawing. It seems that the lasting image of this woman becomes his own personal muse.
     Presumably, Ayuta believes he will never see her again, but while visiting his ailing father in the hospital, he discovers that - lo and behold -- the woman from the train is not only his father's new doctor, but (are you ready for this?) Natsuki's older sister, Haruhi. Despite the eight year distance in age, the two have an instant chemistry, but once Ayuta makes his feelings known, Haruhi is resistant. It turns out she's concerned for the feelings of her younger sister and she's also some nasty skeletons in her closet from her previous marriage. Ayuta, however, isn't discouraged in the least and does his best to woo Haruhi. But even if (when?) he succeeds, can such a love even last?
     The answer to that question is actually answered in the initial portions of the film. Angel's Egg begins with a frame story set some years after the events I've just described. These "present-day" sequences are intercut with the main action, as we meet an older Ayuta who is working not as an artist, but a common day-laborer. He crosses paths with Natsuki, who is now a teacher and hasn't herself hasn't gotten over both her break-up with Ayuta and the presumably tragic aftermath. Clearly, Haruhi is out of the picture. Is she dead? Sick? Off with some other man? The film leaves you in suspense until the very end, although if you're at all familiar with this genre, her true fate won't be much of a surprise. But even though the past and present converge in a way that is supposed to be uplifting (it caps off with a sequence that is remarkably similar to that of Heavenly Forest), in actuality, the momentum pretty much fizzles out the moment after Haruhi's final fate is revealed. The denouement isn't the only problematic aspect either, as the actual circumstances involved in the resolution of Haruhi's storyline seems rather haphazard and poorly explained, robbing the film of much of the emotional power it clearly wants us to experience.
     Still, what is perhaps most refreshing about the Angel's Egg is the fact that it is not "pure love" in the same chaste sense asCrying Out Love in the Center of the World, Heavenly Forest, or Tears for You. The relationship between Ayuta and Haruhi extends to the sexual realm, although suitably glossy and softly-lit as only a love story can be. Still, the fact that the characters in the film actually act on their own sexual desires is refreshing considering the more or less puritanical love stories that I've watched in recent years.
     The overtly formulaic nature of the film means little innovation in terms of storytelling, and thus relies on the performances of the actors. Hayato Ichihara, who played another youngster grappling with coming of age issues in Check it Out Yo! does an even better job here, once again portraying someone on the cusp of true maturity. Erika Sawajiri does a serviceable job as Natsuki, although she isn't helped by the fact that her character's motivation for pursuing the older Ayuta seems a lot more like a simple plot device than it should be. As the woman in the middle, Manami Konishi is suitably alluring, although probably not entirely believable as a psychiatrist. Of course, she is undoubtedly a heterosexual man's dream of what a doctor should be, both in terms of looks and bedside manner.
     As romantic tearjerkers go, Angel's Egg is by no means the best of the bunch, but its likeable cast, attempts at nonlinear narrative, and slightly more believable attitude towards sex help make it one of the better films of its ilk. For those who are tired of the "pure love" formula, Angel's Egg won't exactly change their opinion. But for those who have a soft spot for these kinds of heart wrenching romances, this tale is probably just what the doctor ordered. (Calvin McMillin, 2007)

Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
Intercontinental Video Limited/AVP
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Japanese Language Track
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles

images courtesy of Intercontinental Video, Ltd.

   
 
 
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