April Story (1998) Movie Review

The Japanese film April Story, besides having an annoyingly sweet soundtrack, is a 1-hour film. It is a romance film at its core, but has elements of a Fish out of Water movie in its lead heroine, a somewhat naïve girl from the Hokkaido countryside who attends a University in cosmopolitan Tokyo, a drastic change of scenery that she is completely unprepared for.

The film stars Takako Matsu as the lead, Nireno, the country girl in question. I suppose calling people from Hokkaido “country folk” is warranted, since everyone else in the movie seems to refer to Nireno’s place of origin as something akin to her having an extra eye on her head. Nireno is at once out of her element and hopelessly alone in her small apartment. Her neighbors talk to her from behind closed doors and peep holes and the only girl who makes any effort to get to know her in school is the same one who has made fun of her in front of others, and seems incapable of remembering her name.

In order to fit in, Nireno joins a fly-fishing club, and mistakes one Brad Pitt movie for another. If all that wasn’t bad enough, a pervert tries to get fresh with her in the theaters. We later learn young Nireno didn’t come to the University out of a need for education, but to pursue a fellow classmate who doesn’t know she existed back in High School.

April Story is a simple little story that fits nicely into the 1-hour running length, and looks and feels like a movie-of-the-week, albeit a short one. It opens with Nireno leaving her family behind at the train station, and with them the comforts and familiarity of home. Her first days at the University, as well as her first couple of attempts to get to know her neighbors, show her naivet’ and awkwardness around strangers who have a whole different set of rules that they live by.

Of course saying that Nireno is just a little odd wouldn’t be correct, since the actual phrase to describe her is “overly trusting and nice,” and when confronted with rude people she has no idea how to respond. In a way, April Story can be seen as a clash of the old and the new, with Nireno representing the old, and everyone else ganging up on the new side. The movie doesn’t distinguish which side is better, but the vast difference between the two cultures is quite startling. Anyone who thinks Japan is one homogenous society has yet to see April Story.

April Story is not a bad film, and if anything it’s an okay film with an okay story, and if you absolutely have nothing better to do, or wants to relive your awkward college years over again, then I suppose April Story is right up your alley. I feel for Nireno, and even understand her feelings of isolation and loneliness in a campus full of kids that she has nothing in common with. Her Fish out of Water moments are not written and executed as being humorous, but rather awkward and even sad. I could have used some more laughs, but the movie seems to be playing it straight throughout, which is a shame since playing it straight also means being terribly dull. Mind you, April Story is never completely boring; it’s just not all that interesting of a movie.

Writer/director Shunji Iwai films much of the movie with heavy and bright filters. This lends to the dreamy and surreal quality of Nireno’s journey from home to the campus and her new, isolated life. The camerawork consists of a series of stationary longshots where nothing happens for long periods.

If all the lack of action or a story mentioned above sounds good to you, then April Story is for you. If not, watch something else.

Shunji Iwai (director) / Shunji Iwai (screenplay)
CAST: Takako Matsu …. Nireno, Uzuki
Kahori Fujii …. Kitao, Teruko
Kazuhiko Kato
Seiichi Tanabe …. Yamazaki

Buy April Story on DVD