Publicity Stills of "Crying Out Love In The Centre Of The World" (Courtesy from Cathay-Keris Films)

Genre: Drama/Romance
Director: Isao Yukisada
Starring: Takao Osawa, Kou Shibasaki, Masami Nagasawa, Mirai Moriyama
RunTime: 2 hrs 18 mins
Released By: Cathay-keris Films
Rating: PG
Official Website: http://www.offoffoff.com/film/2005/cryingoutlove.php

Released Date: 7 July 2005


The disappearance of his fiancée, Ritsuko, puzzles Sakutaro. He travels to Shikoku in search of her, to a town where he experienced his first love, Aki, a high school classmate. Things he sees after seventeen years vividly refresh his memories of vision making him feel as though he were travelling backward in time… At age sixteen, Sakutaro falls for Aki, the class idol, who is cast as the heroin in the school play of “Romeo and Juliet.” Another boy plays Romeo but Aki calls Sakutaro Romeo. Evidently, their love is mutual. However, her parents interfere with their romance by forbidding her to use their phone, so she must communicate with Sakutaro via recorded cassette messages that a little girl delivers. The young lovers enjoy the springtime of their lives and spend a night alone together on an otherwise deserted island. Then Aki learns that she is suffering from leukemia and her days are numbered. Her dream is a tour to Ululu in Australia, the pictures taken and, for fun, pose for a photo of their imaginary wedding. On a stormy night he secretly spirits Aki from the hospital to the airport, but all flights are cancelled owning to the storm. Then a lit attacks her. Though confined to the hospital, she sends her tapes to Sakutaro, except for the last one that is missing. After seventeen years, Ritsuko, Sakutaro’s fiancée, visits the photo studio in Shikoku and finds the pictures of Sakutaro and Aki in bridal costumes. She was the little messenger girl, and now she learns how desperately in love they were. Aki’s final tape, long missing, at least reaches its destination…

Movie Review:

It is no wonder that this romance emerged as one of the top films in Japan in 2004. Even though plot elements might seem similar to classic tearjerker romances like Love Story, with what the Japanese could do to revamp the horror genre with its signature atmospheric style, it has adapted a similar strategy for its romance genre, and the result is this romance filled with melancholic bittersweet moments.

Sakutaro Matsumoto is getting married to his fiancee Ritsuko Fujimura, but one day, Ritsuko chanced upon a cassette recording, and leaves behind a note to Saku that she'll be away, with no further elaboration.

While searching for Ritsuko, we journey with Saku into flashbacks 17 years ago, hich describes his first love with fellow classmate Aki Hirose, a smart, athletic and popular girl in school. First loves are always beautiful to remember, and it is no different for Saku. We share in their pure innocent love, started out from hanging out together, scooter rides and a summer vacation outing to a remote island.

They learn more about each other through the exchange of cassette tapes, an excellent plot device along the lines of Il Mare's snail mail letters, as we listen in on their likes and dislikes, games that Aki sets for Saku, and most importantly, listening in to their innermost thoughts. We are also brought to their favourite haunts as we transition between present and past with the tapes providing the necessary narrative detail.

But Fate, like in Romeo and Juliet, always have a hand in tragedies, and deals the protagonists a fatal test of their love. In winning a Sony Walkman from a "Midnight Wave" radio competition, Saku cited a story about a friend who is suffering from leukemia, and made Aki upset. Little did he know that she was indeed a victim of the disease.

And at this point, ladies will want to get hold of Kleenex. As treatment takes its toil, their cassette tapes become all the more important in the lovers communication, as Aki has to drop out of school and live in the hospital. They obtain help from a little girl, who acts as a courier to deliver the tapes. But with each passing day, hope fades and pessimism sets in. Not wanting to give up, the lovers share a common dream that they will one day visit the "Center of the World"
together - the Ayers Rock in Australia. It isn't much of a spoiler to reveal what happened, but I'll just leave it at that.

The loose ends are all properly tied up before the movie ends, and everything comes to a full circle as we discover the truth behind the relationships between Saku, Aki and Ritsuko. I feel that it is this discovery and link between the three that makes this film a powerful one, especially when tragedy seems to be the common denominator that unites these characters together.

Adding depth to the story, and to the lives of the protagonists, is an elderly photographer, one who played a small but extremely important role in capturing the relationship between our lovers, and also dispensing advice to Saku based on his own experience of love lost.

What's a romance film without beautiful leads? Guys will find their eye candy in Masami Nagasawa (Aki) and Kou Shibasaki (Ritsuko), while girls will probably squeal at the boyishly charming Mirai Moritama (young Saku) or the mature Saku played by Takao Osawa.

Beautiful people aside, the film works because the flashbacks and transitions are so well done, it somehow feels like a chronological narrative despite the different eras we are brought backwards and forwards in. Besides Fate, Nature in the form of "Typhoon 29" also plays a part in the setting of the story between the different eras, one which drapes the tragic background, and the other, offering an opportunity for reconciliation.

This is surely going into my books as one of the top romances I've seen, and is in contention as one of my favourite movies this year. This film definitely has something for those who have loved and lost, have been or are currently in a relationship.

Movie Rating:

Review by Stefan Shih

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