|How does a director top himself after making the highest-grossing film of that year? Isao Yukisada, after his surprise hit Crying Out Love, in the Center of the World, expanded to ambitious commercial films while also indulging in more intimate projects at the same time. Katsuyuki Motohiro began making kinder and more high-profile projects after his super successful Bayside Shakedown films, though none of those films matched Bayside's success. Meanwhile, director Eitaro Hasumi decides to stick to the same things that made his mega-blockbuster Umizaru 2: Limit of Love such a success with his follow-up Season of Snow (Giniro No Season), i.e. pretty people in visually spectacular situations. While the film does deliver on that crucial element, it's also made from a formulaic script that fails to lift the film beyond its commercial trappings.
Featuring the first use of the American-developed Spydercam, the film delivers on the spectacle, vividly capturing the film's characters weaving around the majestic white mountains of Hakuba. However, for the female audience, their spectacle may be the film's central characters, the so-called "Yukizaru" (Snow Monkeys). Composed of Gin (the singular-named Eita), Yuji, (Tetsuji Tamayama), and Jiro (Munetaka Aoki), the Snow Monkeys run around their ski resort town with their "boys will be boys" mischief, much to the annoyance and forced tolerance of the townspeople.
Meanwhile, the town is attempting to reinvent itself in the face of competition from the trendier next-door resort, which boasts a new snow-made chapel. Their first customer is Nanami (Rena Tanaka), who arrives at the town without her groom. The town's biggest worry is realized when troublemaker Gin, who runs a handyman business in town, meets Nanami and offers to teach her to ski for a considerable fee. Eventually, Nanami will discover Gin's past as a professional skier, but she herself holds her own reason for going to the resort.
Season of Snow is unabashedly a sports melodrama, and the script by Kenji Bando (Midnight Sun, Heavenly Forest) has no problem sticking to the formula. This means that everyone has an unspeakable past, there will be a love story at the center, and there will be a sports climax with lots of applause and cheers. Of course, a formula is often repeated because it works, and that's thankfully the case here. The characters are likable, the emotion works, and some of the Snow Monkeys' ways are amusing. However, over the years one would hope that technology is not improvement in films of this genre. Besides its impressive production values, Season of Snow is little more than a rehash of sports films that you've probably seen more.
Nevertheless, the film is also more likely to remind you of a good sports film you've already seen. The filmmakers replace Japanese cinema's favorite formula of lovable-but-incompetent underdogs with three troublemakers who are good at what they do. This means Samu Fujishio's cinematography and its ability to capture the Snow Monkeys doing their thing is easily the most visually appealing part of the film. In a close second is Rena Tanaka, who exudes a radiant beauty that should also be partially credited to Fujishio as well. Eita, whose popularity is on the rise after hit drama Last Friends, gives off plenty of leading man charm as the tortured Gin. If seeing pretty people and pretty sights is what gets you to the movies, then Season of Snow provides plenty of motivation.
However, you'll likely forget everything within hours of leaving the theater, as the situations and characters will probably blend into your collective memory of all the other sports films you've seen. Except for the aforementioned Spydercam, Season of Snow really brings nothing new to the existing pantheon of sports films. However, that doesn't mean that it's not an agreeable commercial film. In fact, the visuals themselves are worth the price of a ticket, even though the script is strictly TV drama-quality, with silly youth shenanigans, monologues of self-realizations, and backstories of tortured pasts. Audience who demand little more than the usual TV drama fodder will likely enjoy Season of Snow the most. Coincidentally, that may just be the audience that the filmmakers were going for. Keep those expectations in mind, and everyone will go home happy. (Kevin Ma, 2008)