The 8-Year Engagement film review: tear-jerking Japanese romance based on an incredible true story
Soft core porn director turns to romance in this tale of a young man standing by his fiancée, who wakes from a coma with no memories of him. The no-nonsense approach and happy ending are a refreshing change in the genre
Tear-jerking romances in which one member of the couple inexplicably falls ill or dies are a dime a dozen in Japanese cinema, so it may come as a breath of fresh air that the sick partner in The 8-Year Engagement actually recovers and lives happily ever after with her love.
This is hardly a spoiler, given that the film is marketed as being based on the incredible true story of Hisashi Nishizawa and Mai Nakahara, who were engaged to be married in 2007 before a rare brain inflammation sent Mai into a years-long coma. When she awoke in 2011, she had lost most of her memory – including memories of the fiancé who stayed by her side.
Filmmaker Takahisa Zeze, perhaps best known for directing ’90s soft core porn, spends about two-thirds of the film’s 119 minutes on Mai’s time in hospital and treatment, highlighting the severity of her condition and Hisashi’s admirable optimism and devotion to his partner.
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Played by Takeru Sato, Hisashi is earnest and naive to a fault, and if this wasn’t based on a true story, viewers may have found the character unbelievable. As Mai, Tao Tsuchiya has the unenviable task of portraying someone in mostly a vegetative state, but in brief early scenes and the third act, her charm shines through.
As mentioned, there’s a happy ending: Mai regained her memory and bodily functions, and in 2014 the couple tied the knot. Takahisa documents all of this in workmanlike fashion, with little to no gimmicks in editing or narrative. This is a simple, straightforward film based on the most amazing, complicated of engagements.
The 8-Year Engagement opens on May 10
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