April Bride -- Film Review

Jason Kempin/Getty Images
BUCHEON, South Korea -- Wedding bells and death tolls chime together in "April Bride," a schmaltzy romantic drama that eulogizes the undying devotion of a young couple even as one succumbs to cancer. With an idealized vision of love, anesthetized representation of an agonizing illness and a perfectly groomed cast, this treacle-sweet date movie will turn its target female audience dewy-eyed while making their tag-along boyfriends nod off watching the heroine take an eternity to die.

Ryuichi Hiroki, who made the electrifying, erotic SM-themed "M" and sensuous, female-centered "Vibrator," has directed with mechanical competence and zero personal voice. As a result, he has scored the biggest commercial hit of his career and earned a whopping $33 million in the Japanese home market. It should also sock up decent business in Asia, where male lead Eita is a hot item.

"April Bride" opens with heroine Chie (Nana Eikura) on respiratory aid, being driven to church. As the strains of Bette Midler's "The Rose" wafts above the fragile beauty, it is apparent that the film wears its sentimental heart on its sleeve. The narrative skips back about a year ago, when Chie, then a wholesome conference MC in her early 20s, meets Taro (Eita), her Prince Charming, during a mix-up at a product presentation. Their honeymoon period as a carefree couple, evoking the little morsels of happiness that make up normal life, is most truthful to Hiroki's usual sensitive style.

Then Taro discovers Chie was diagnosed with breast cancer soon after they started dating. She breaks all contacts with Taro, who refuses to give up, and traces her to an island resort where she's gone to pine for him. They reunite after Taro reassures her that her mastectomy doesn't affect his feelings. However, as Chie's condition deteriorates, the tone becomes nearly as physically grueling and emotionally draining as chemotherapy.

The minutiae of Chie's bed-bound life is dragged out for close to two hours before the film gets to its real point, which is to throw a perfect wedding, for target female audience to project themselves onto the bride, (who, incidentally, looks nowhere near sick).
Except for Chie's brave decision to volunteer for a TV series to champion cancer awareness among young women, there are few fresh ideas to lighten up the terminal illness theme. It even resorts to the old hat of the post-mortem video message.

As lovers go, the protagonists are flawless to a fault. Chie is a paragon of Japanese female virtue -- always considerate about others, putting on a brave, cheerful face and never allowing her makeup to smudge or her hair to be disheveled even in the worst medical condition. Taro is too tender and attentive to be real.

Since the film does not allow for dark moments when doubt, fear or selfishness makes characters waver, it feels cosmetic even when based on a true story. Only Chie's father (Akira Emoto) appears flesh-and-blood, expressing both pain and concern with controlled dignity. When he and Chie play a duet on the shamisen, their affection is conveyed more eloquently than dialogue. Technical credits are high quality but not exceptional.

Venue: Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival
Production: Twins Japan, April Bride Project, Tokyo Broadcasting System Television (TBS)
Cast: Nana Eikura, Eita, Akira Emoto, Satomi Tezuka, Misako Yasuda
Director: Ryuichi Hiroki
Screenwriter: Hiroshi Saito
Producer: Takashi Hirano
Director of photography: Koichi Saito
Production designer: Tomoyuki Maruo
Music: Yoshinori Ohashi
Editor: Junichi Kikuchi
Sales: Toho Company
No rating, 129 minutes
comments powered by Disqus