This is a Japanese film adaptation of Ichikawa Takuji’s novel “Renai Shashin: Mo Hitotsu no Monogatari” released last year.
The story is a familiar one. Two school outcasts, Shizuri played by Aoi Miyazaki and Makoto played by Hiroshi Tamaki. Both are shy, hangs out by themselves, met on orientation day, clicked instantly and became friends. She fell in love with him but he is in love with someone else.
Makato shared his love of photography with Shizuri as well as his fascination with taking pictures at Heavenly Forest, a secluded area with a “No Trespassing” sign. This became a private, secret sanctuary for them.
He gained confidence and was able to get closer to his crush, Miyuki, who is (of course) a beautiful, more popular girl from a cool crowd. They got closer and closer so Shizuri was relegated to be the third wheel of the equation. Sounds familiar, super major cliches? Ready to brush it aside and move on to the next DVD?
Same here I thought so as well until a friend of mine saw it on a flight and told me that it’s a nice film about love and life so I search the net and read some reviews that altogether contradicted my first impression.The following review was the clincher for me and the reason why I am hunting for this video with english subs.
“At a glance, Heavenly Forest falls into the tradition of the exceedingly formulaic “Pure Love” subgenre that has become increasingly popular in both Japan and South Korea in recent years. A select few of these films have been both brilliant and deeply moving, while the rest are more often than not rote, unaffecting exercises in commercial filmmaking. What is perhaps most remarkable about Heavenly Forest, then, is that despite whatever clichés it may contain (and it contains many), the film’s central romance never feels contrived or overly-manipulative. In fact, as audience members, we don’t realize just how invested we are in that relationship until the delivery of an abrupt wake-up call that most viewers may not fully anticipate.
Heavenly Forest begins with narration from Makoto Segawara, a young Japanese man on his way to New York for the first time to reunite with his closest friend and presumably his first love, Shizuru Satonaka. She’s sent him a letter to inform him of the grand opening of an exhibit showcasing her photography, and Makoto is eager to see her after a long absence.
The film then flashes back to Makoto’s college days, eventually showing us his first meeting with Shizuru. With her dorky glasses, a serious case of bedhead, and a quirky, altogether questionable fashion sense, Shizuru is undeniably set up as a social outcast. Certainly, Shizuru isn’t exactly “Ugly Betty” (she is played by the fetching Aoi Miyazaki after all), but in dress, appearance and attitude, she is unquestionably different from the popular girls at her school. Of course, Makoto isn’t exactly GQ handsome either, as he’s an extremely awkward and shy young man, in no small part due to a curious rash that requires a generous application of ointment each day.
But while it’s clear that these two share an unmistakable chemistry, Makoto has a crush on Miyuki (Meisa Kuroki), a more traditionally beautiful, girl next door/prom queen-type. Eventually, Makoto falls into Miyuki’s circle of friends, and the typical “geek who somehow makes it with the cool crowd” plot turn goes immediately into effect. Of course, they make fun of Shizuru, and she overhears, causing a rift between she and Makoto. Eventually, they mend fences, and she tries to befriend Miyuki, even though Shizuru has fallen head over heels in love with Makoto.
If you think all of this sounds familiar, you’re right but Heavenly Forest actually changes things up a bit. Sure, the “cool crowd” may come across as jerks at first, but they actually turn out to be Makoto’s most faithful friends rather than superficial preppies. Miyuki, the seemingly one-dimensional object of Makoto’s affection, is shown to have layers herself. And while the whole Makoto-Shizuru relationship may seem to touch on all these teen movie clichés, what is most remarkable is the way in which Heavenly Forest only seems interested in raising the possibility of the clichés, before dropping them immediately in favor of what audiences really want: a story of two people getting to know each other and falling in love. Bad romances rely on cheap, manufactured drama to drive their plots, but Heavenly Forest is content to center on its characters instead.
I quickly placed Heavenly Forest in the genre of “Pure Love,” but one would not necessarily know that as they are watching the film. Is it a romantic comedy? A romantic drama? An honest-to-goodness tearjerker? Answer: all of the above.”
“The ending is the cliché melodramatic ending we’ve see again and again in Asian romances. Yet it works because the movie has engendered so much good will along the way and it shows just enough restraint.”