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More manga hits the screen with “Paradise Kiss”, a live action version of the popular comic from “Nana” creator Yazawa Ai. Another title aimed at the female demographic, the film revolves around the adventures and romances of a young high school girl in the fashion industry, played here by actress Kitagawa Keiko (“Placing Me Back Together”), herself a real life model. Directed by Shinjo Takehiko, who also adapted the manga “I Give My First Love to You”, and with a script from Bando Kenji (“Midnight Sun”), the film also stars upcoming talent Mukai Osamu (“Hanamizuki”), with support from Kaku Kento (“Shuffle”), Igarashi Shunji (“Rookies”) and Osama Aya (“A Liar and a Broken Girl”).
Kitagawa Keiko stars as Yukari Hayakasa, a hard working, though not particularly talented high school student trying to focus on her upcoming university entrance exams, spurred on by her mother. Her life changes when she is approached on the street by the odd looking Arashi (Kaku Kento) and his girlfriend Miwako (Osama Aya), members of the art college fashion label Paradise Kiss. Dragging her back to their studio, they try to convince her to model for them at the upcoming school show, which she angrily refuses to do, at least until she meets their handsome, suave designer George (Mukai Osamu). Eventually agreeing, Yukari is slowly pulled into their world, and comes to realise that she might be better suited to fashion than her studies.
Even without being familiar with the original manga (or being able to judge the faithfulness of it as an adaptation), it’s pretty clear that “Paradise Kiss” is very much a youth oriented affair targeted at the same audience as “Nana”, which it certainly resembles in feel, themes and looks. On this score, it’s definitely up to the standard of the mismatched female friendship 2005 hit and its sequel, and is a fun, charming coming of age tale which sees its characters dealing with the same kind of never even remotely life threatening issues whilst learning about themselves and attempting to find happiness. The film as a whole revolves around good looking and basically decent youngsters, with Yukari facing up to the twin choice of whether to abandon her university plans and pursue a career in fashion, and whether to end up with George or her high school crush, in the process working out her own identity. As a fantasy, it’s harmless and earnest stuff, and the film is upbeat and positive throughout, allowing its protagonist the luxury of exploring the possibilities of life while leading a lavish princess like existence in good natured and enjoyable style.
Crucially, Kitagawa Keiko is appealing and likeable as Yukari, and though fairly standard for a heroine in this kind of film, she generates enough sympathy and manages to hold the interest despite acting like a bit of a brat at times. Clearly not quite bright enough for university, her character arc is predictable though still engaging, even if the final act itself feels distinctly rushed, with her making the leap to mature decision maker coming across as abrupt – the process of adapting a lengthy manga to the screen quite possibly resulting in material and details being jettisoned in the need for a reasonable running time and pace. This is likely true of the supporting characters, who aside from George all feel a little sketchy, their various subplots never really rising above the level of filler materials. Still, the cast are all amiable, and though straightforward, the relationships in the film are effective enough to make for a fair amount of romance and a believable set of friendships.
Unsurprisingly, director Shinjo Takehiko goes for a bright and colourful look and a breezy, at times cutesy feel, all of which fits the material very well, accompanied by a suitably fluffy J-pop soundtrack. The film is filled with some pretty interesting fashion creations and accessories, which range from the frilly to the punk to the flamboyant, and are likely to please the intended audience. Like its impeccably dressed cast, the film as a whole looks good, with polished production values throughout adding to a well crafted and glossy viewing experience.
As a manga adaptation and a fun piece of wish fulfilment, “Paradise Kiss” hits all of its targets with aplomb, and whilst neither challenging nor original, it’s a highly genial piece of safe commercial cinema. Definitely one for fans of “Nana” and the likes, although most immediately of appeal to fans of the source material and female viewers, it’s attractively staged and charismatic enough to be enjoyed by a wider audience, whether as a date movie or otherwise.
Takehiko Shinjo (director) / Kenji Bando (screenplay), Ai Yazawa (manga series)
CAST: Keiko Kitagawa … Yukari ‘Caroline’ Hayasaka
Osamu Mukai … Jouji ‘George’ Koizumi
Shunji Igarashi … Daisuke Yamamoto / Isabella Yamamoto
Kento Kaku … Arashi Nagase