‘April Story’ is a slice of life film engineered on subtlety and soft-spoken loneliness. Your winter sweater shimmering in the sunlight giving you away as a non-local, making an instant bullseye for classroom othering. Dubious friendship seekers covered with insincerity.
Yet, perfect surroundings aren’t necessary to move two hearts forward. A broken umbrella can be all you need in the rain fall.
If one wears their emotions on their sleeve, Uzuki Nireno is wearing multiple layers. Trading the comfortable life she knew in the frosty air of Hokkaido in search of unfulfilled high school love in the warm isolation of Tokyo.
A person in every corner, a sociable face everywhere you turn, but only on paper. Like the books Uzuki shares her life with. Uzuki returns to her solo apartment to cook too much curry without someone to share it with.
She invites a neighbor to join and her large beaming smile is met with an equally large frown and a polite decline. Though the neighbor has second thoughts and knocks on Uzuki’s door in a later scene, the moment is somehow lost. Lacking warmth. Showing timing is everything.
Reeling Uzuki in
When a new ‘friend’ convinces you to join the school’s fly fishing club and you discover the friendship is built on the bargain of a club freebie… How can you not feel ‘reeled in’ under false pretenses? But that’s exactly what happens to Hokkaido native Uzuki Nireno (played by actress Takako Matsu) when told by the club President there’s a free fishing reel for her if she brings a friend to join.
Uzuki Nireno however, plays the moment off gently, looking down briefly but hiding her emotions in an open field. The friend, Teruko Kitao (played by actress Kahori Fujii) is a perplexing character.
At times putting Uzuki on the spot, pushing her on why she came to Tokyo in front of all her classmates… But other times taking a genuine interest in shopping with Uzuki and asking if she has a boyfriend.
Naturally, the ‘free reel’ incident puts Uzuki more on guard about her feelings than ever, and she stays mostly secretive.
The Bookstore Umbrella
Uzuki Nireno came to Tokyo for one sole undercover purpose, to find her high school crush Yamazaki. Somehow, Uzuki gets her second chance and Yamazaki (played by actor Seiichi Tanabe) even recognizes her. But she holds her guard up, and runs away to her bicycle even when offered an umbrella to avoid the rain.
Uzuki, is always on guard from Tokyo ‘strangers’, at one point ignoring a man trying to return her art book. Fiercely independent, lost in self protective isolation. But this time, it’s different, Yamazaki is what she came to Tokyo for.
She soon has second thoughts when a business man hands her an umbrella. Uzuki promises she’s just borrowing the umbrella and buying her own across the street.
She returns to Yamazki, and all his umbrellas are ones left behind by other customers, forgotten. Maybe for a reason, as they’re all broken. But to Uzuki the one she picks is perfect because it gave her an excuse to be with Yamazaki once again.
The cinematography in the film’s rain scene is gorgeous. Slow motion rain droplets wave as Uzuki Nireno holds her scarlet red umbrella in quiet bliss.
Conclusion: A faithful recreation of a big life move starting off not as wondrous and storybook-like as we imagined… But discovering the right jigsaw puzzle piece we were searching for really was within reach. We just needed to point to the right book.
– April Story will have an in-person screening double feature with ‘Fireworks, Should We See It from the Side or the Bottom?’ on December 10 at 5:00 pm at Japan Society NYC.
– This film will be digitally available to rent from Japan Society NYC from December 9 through December 23.
– April Story is part of Japan Society NYC’s ‘Love Letters: Four Films by Director Shunji Iwai’ series.
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