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Christmas on July 24th Avenue

Miki Nakatani and Takao Osawa in Christmas on July 24th Avenue.
Year: 2006  
Director: Shosuke Murakami  
  Writer: Arisa Kaneko, Shuichi Yoshida (original novel)
  Cast: Miki Nakatani, Takao Osawa, Ryuta Sato, Juri Ueno, Tsuyoshi Abe, You, Hitori Gekidan, Ayako Kawahara, Ikki Sawamura, Fumiyo Kohinata
  The Skinny: A droll Christmas-themed romantic comedy that gets too serious for its own good, but isn't without its charms. Still, that chapter search button might come in handy after the first act.
Kevin Ma:
Rules for a Japanese television drama (romance): 1) Protagonist should introduce self and all the relevant characters in opening 10 minutes through pleasant voiceover. 2) Must have silly sidekick who is a bit of a self-deprecating, lovable loser, and may or may not have a crush on the protagonist. 3) Must show the romantic couple going about their own daily lives with melancholic frowns after some conflict drives them apart. 4) Must express all epiphanies in monologue form; length can vary between 2 to 4 minutes.

     All of the above rules show up in Christmas on July 24th Avenue, the second film from TV director Shosuke Murakami and screenwriter Arisa Kaneko, who made their debut with the hit cultural phenomenon Train Man. That film was successful not only because it came out at the peak of the character's popularity, but also because it was a coherent adaptation of a book consisting of only internet postings from one singular character's point of view. The good news is that their second film together, which takes a similar formula of a lovable loser falling in love with an unattainable target, is still pretty coherent. The bad news is that incoherency might have actually made the film more interesting than it currently is.
     Christmas on July 24th Avenue starts off promisingly enough. Sayuri (Miki Nakatani) is your average lonely office girl in the coastal town of Nagasaki. Enamored with shojo comics (comics targeted for young girls) which take place in Europe, Sayuri dreams of living in Lisbon, Portugal and walking down July 24th Avenue (Note: the street really exists - I found it on Google Maps). When Satoshi (Takao Osawa), her crush from eight years ago when she was still a stagehand in school, returns after a successful career as a lighting designer, Sayuri's fantasies begin to flare up again. However, Sayuri tends to go out in public looking like she's in need of a strong hairbrush and a bar of soap, which won't attract hunks like Satoshi. Nevertheless, Sayuri is determined to make herself look presentable for Satoshi in time for Christmas, a holiday for romantics in Japan. Cue the makeover montage. Really, it was that easy.
     Up to this point, Christmas on July 24th Avenue is so far so good. Murakami and Kaneko display a good deal of charm both visually (Hey, Lisbon and Nagasaki do seem alike!) and thematically. There's nothing particularly original in the film, but the effort to build charming characters (Juri Ueno, as the girlfriend of Sayuri's brother who can pass for Sayuri's twin, is a nice touch) makes it a film that's hard to dislike. However, the main characters Sayuri and Satoshi aren't particularly convincing in their own way. While Miki Nakatani is a capable actress, her Sayuri relies too much on broad physical comedy to move beyond the stereotypical lovable loser role, and Takao Osawa's Satoshi lacks any clear personality beyond good looks to establish a believable leading man or romantic target. It's not a unique flaw for a commercial romantic comedy, but one hopes that someone would have learned by now.
     The lack of a believable romantic couple means that when the time comes for the obligatory conflict, the film grinds to a halt in its seriousness. Granted, the conflict is somewhat less defined and pettier than in the usual romance, and it even falls appropriately in line with the film's theme of falling in love with image over reality. However, the couple lacks the chemistry to give us any reason to root for them other than the fact that it would end the film. Furthermore, the conflict simply creates a clear imbalance between the opening's amusing fantasy tone and the supposedly enlightening seriousness of the second half, making the film feel longer than it really is.
     With TV Asahi as one of the investors, there was probably a demand to meet a standard formula that makes the film a condensed television drama. Murakami and Kaneko, who still work actively in television, pack in enough subplots and characters for a usual drawn-out television drama, but fail to sufficiently develop any of them in 105 minutes. However, the usual television drama moments are sprinkled throughout - the forced physical comedy, the possible frustration-inducing romantic opponent - and there's even a character who turns towards the camera to say the ever-timely "Merry Christmas" to the enlightened heroine.
     Ultimately, Christmas on July 24th Avenue suffers from what can be called the "Train Man Syndrome": it has a likable but socially inept main character who goes through a satisfying character arc with significant changes, but it also has the fairy tale romantic target that somehow sees something in the protagonist that the audience doesn't see. We could swallow the one-sided pursuit in Train Man because the shedding of the protagonist's helplessness is the point of the film. That sort of balance is not adequately achieved in Christmas on July 24th Avenue. Satoshi is consistently portrayed as too good to be true, and the cause of his personal issues seem to be constantly put aside, despite their importance as a driving force in the third act.
     The biggest sign of trouble in the film is the fact that the most engaging character is Juri Ueno's Megumi. Serving as a reflection for Sayuri, the most imagination seems to be put into Megumi's initial scenes (the fir tree image probably gets the most surprising laugh in the film), although it's also the storyline that only serves as a setup for those final epiphanies. That's unfortunate, because Ueno's character deserves a little better than that. Considering Christmas on July 24th Avenue was made by a television station, would it be a little too far-fetched to ask for a spin-off? (Kevin Ma 2007)

Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
Asia Video
Japanese Language Track
Dolby Digital 2.0
Removable English and Chinese subtitles
  Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen