We Were There: First Love
Starring Toma Ikuta, Yuriko Yoshitaka, Sosuke Takaoka
Director Miki Takahiro
Category: IIA (Japanese)
Based on a series of wildly popular Japanese romance manga, We Were There is likely to be a summer favourite for people who have boy band posters on their walls and cute animal faces on their phone case. For everyone else, it's a little like eating overly sweet candy: there might have been a time you really enjoyed it, but now it's only pleasant occasionally and in small doses.
The serial ( Bokura ga Ita) by Japanese author Yuki Obata is 15 volumes in total and has already been turned into an anime series for television. For film, it's condensed into roughly four hours and divided into two parts. The first half, First Love, is out on April 25 and the cinematic release of the second part, True Love, will follow on May 2.
Like all good Japanese mush, it's unabashedly melodramatic and sentimental. The full tale spans about 10 years from the characters' first meeting as teens to their reunion as young working adults. We Were There: First Love, is set in the most idyllic high school ever - located in the quaint town of Kushiro, Hokkaido, close to the breathtaking sea, with nary a single cloud in the sky.
Yano (Toma Ikuta) is the school's most popular boy. He's good at sports, aces his grades but still has a bad boy demeanour. Despite it all, he's got an aching heart, pining for a girlfriend who died last summer. His psyche is further damaged by a last meeting that was particularly emotionally messy.
Earnest and cheerful Nanami (Yuriko Yoshitaka) is the unlikely girl who sees Yano's pain and eventually opens up his heart again. Before that actually happens, there are several flashbacks to explain a lot of back story. They include ones featuring the dead girlfriend's dour sister who is constantly giving Nanami the evil eye, but who Yano maintains a strange relationship with. There's also Yano's buddy and rival Takeuchi who's good looking and sensitive enough to want Nanami for himself.
The two leads constantly waver between feeling guilty and betrayed while ungrounded emotions ebb and surge like the flow of teenage hormones and insecurity levels. Adults may find the constant mood shifts from "I hate you!" to "I will never leave you!" maddening, but it is a teen romance aimed at a demographic that enjoys such dramatics set to melancholic pop songs and doleful piano scores.
For what it is, We Were There: First Love is not unbearable. There's a sunlit warmth to its scenery that conjures pleasant reminiscences of school days. The storytelling delivers with delicate nuance what it means to have empathy for another's pain.
As for the leads, Yoshitaka's almond eyes express the right amount of sincerity and naiveté for Nanami, while heartthrob Ikuta broods while possessing Andy Lau Tak-wah's sharp facial features.
At the town train station, the film even restages the most clichéd of romantic conventions as one lover runs along the platform to say farewell. In part two, we find out whether they meet again. Pfff, as if.
We Were There: First Love opens April 25