Nov 16

“100 Yen Love” – Film Review from the 19th Japanese Film Festival (Australia and New Zealand)


Eden Law (Fukushima-ken ALT 2010-2011) reviews “100 Yen Love”, a character-driven drama about the beautiful losers of life, you and me, baby.


Mama said knock you out

A film with indie sensibilities, 100 Yen Love is a slow-burn treat, a small-town drama that may not seem to have much to offer like its protagonist, but it’s the little things about this film that prove to be the most satisfying. Already saddled with a string of awards, director Take Masaharu’s film is Japan’s official entry into the foreign-language category in this year’s Oscars.

Ichiko (Ando Sakura) is a slacker – directionless at the ripe old age of 32 with little prospects and mooching off her accommodating parents in an unremarkable and plain town that could be set anywhere in Japan. She barely expends energy on anything, almost incomprehensible in her speech, and neglectful of her appearance, wearing slept-in clothes, her face half-covered by unruly hair with long-grown-out roots, shuffling in a stooped posture to the local convenience store for late night junk food and manga. However, she is forced to leave home after an altercation with her antagonistic sister, and to support herself by working at a dead-end job at the same convenience store she used to frequent. Along the way, she enters into an awkward, maybe-romance with a taciturn and brusque man from the local boxing gym that her workmates call “Banana Man” (Arai Hirofumi), because of his odd habit of buying massive amounts of bananas. For the first time, Ichiko has to rely on herself in dealing with all the trials of being an adult, and they can be very, very brutal indeed.

To describe 100 Yen Love simply, you could call it an inspirational, transformative story through the genre of sports – boxing, in this case, as Ichiko, finding focus for the first time in her life, transforms from a loser to a lean, powerful athlete. And yes, there is the usual training montage of a zero-to-hero, helped along by a rock-out soundtrack that was shamelessly enjoyable and inspirational, though the film meanders for quite a while before reaching this part. But Ichiko’s journey doesn’t feel like a cliche – Ando, in her role, really did an amazing job – bringing a muscularity to her role (apparently Ando did actually trained at a local boxing gym in her teens), and truly inhabiting Ichiko, growing bolder and more confident in her mannerisms and stature. At first an unwilling participant in the course of her own life, she finally takes control, not for any lofty message or plot-driven ideals, but because she needed to.

As mentioned, there is satisfaction in the small things in this film – the background is populated by a cast of quirky characters who provide humour and humanity to the general greyness of the film, although some characters are harder to stomach than others. Like the climatic boxing match that Ichiko finally enters into, the film is not beautiful to watch, but will reward the patient viewer who sticks with it to see what happens next. Sometimes the small things can be just as epic and satisfying.

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