The central premise of 50 First Dates has been so popular that there have been three remakes of the film in different languages, with 50 First Kisses being the latest version of the seemingly timeless tale — on the island of Hawaii, a playboy finds true love in the form of a woman who relives the same day over and over again, unable to form any new memories after a terrible accident.
There is some merit to the tale, since it carries a heady amount of wish fulfilment of both genders. The Japanese remake, however, throws us a pair of uncharismatic leads in the form of Takayuki Yamada (Daisuke) and Masami Nagasawa (Rui). Now, don’t get me wrong — it’s not that they don’t perform well in their roles. However, Yamada looks like he can’t wait to get out of the movie, while Nagasawa wavers between helpless damsel and spunky lass. The pair feels miscast. Worst of all, it feels like they have no chemistry with each other.
Perhaps this has to do with the whole premise of the story. As one of the characters in the film rightly states, it’s not possible for this situation to take place in any other country that has distinctly different seasons. It is only because every day is sunny in Hawaii that Rui’s family and friends are able to pretend that it is the same day over and over again, to prevent any more trauma to the lead character.
But that’s where the clash of cultures begins. It is a fundamentally Western idea to have society bend over backwards for the sake of one person, whereas Asian stories see individuals sacrificing themselves for the good of others. The story feels like it could not not feasibly take place with such Asian characters, no matter how Westernised they may be.
The humour also doesn’t quite feel right. On the one hand, you have plenty of slapstick and outlandish behaviour. On the other hand, it feels downright weird to see Japanese characters behave so disrespectfully to each other with nary a line of exposition to explain all this. It may be a Japanese romantic comedy, but it doesn’t quite feel like the same sort of funnies that you would see in other Japanese films. Characters behave ludicrously, but they don’t push it far enough to be funny. They reign themselves in so much that loosening up looks positively torturous for them. The humour doesn’t synch up.
Predictably, the energy in Act Two sags when the couple starts dating in earnest, which is the tricky part. Does the film play it straight, assuming audiences won’t know what happens next in the plot? Or does the film take it that viewers already know what the destination is, and are here to watch the journey instead? It tries for the middle ground, but it’s not the best part of the film.
Jiro Sato is a hoot as Kenta, Rui’s constantly exasperated father. Not only does he constantly try to keep Rui’s world an elaborate sham, he also has to deal with the antics of his son, Shintaro (played by Taiga). Kenta and Shintaro are hilarious together, especially when you see the bewildered and irritated reactions of the former. The film would have been funnier were it centred around Rui’s family, who seems to have enough problems of their own without having to deal with an amnesiac member in their midst.
50 First Kisses does have its funnies, although it’s not where you’d expect. Perhaps a greater degree of localisation was required for the romantic comedy to truly fall within the expectations of a Japanese romantic comedy. Nevertheless, it is still fairly entertaining, although not with the sort of Japanese quirks that you’d normally find in other comedies.
Should you watch this at weekday movie ticket prices? Okay.
Should you watch this at weekend movie ticket prices? No.
Secret ending? No.
Running time: 116 minutes
50 First Kisses opens in Singapore theatres on 26 July 2018.
Marcus Goh is a television scriptwriter, having written for popular shows like “Lion Mums”, “Crimewatch”, “Incredible Tales”, and “Police & Thief”. He’s also a Transformers enthusiast and avid pop culture scholar. You can find him on social media as Optimarcus and on his site. The views expressed are his own.
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