Tennen Kokekkō Review
After the success of teenage bubblegum drama Linda Linda Linda, minimalist Japanese director Nobuhiro Yamashita has found himself one of the new darlings of Western asian film fans. His latest film: Tennen Kokekkō, is based on a manga story from award winning shoujo (young girl) manga writer Fusako Kuramochi, and it once again examines the intergroup relationships and school lives of a group of teenage girls, but takes the location away from the city to a tiny school in a tiny village in the countryside. Helping Yamashita to adapt Kuramochi’s work into film is the similarly trendy and in-demand writer: Aya Watanabe, who gave us the excellent Joze, the Tiger & the Fish. This would seem like a marriage made in heaven for fans of minimalist romantic comedy dramas, so will Tennen Kokkekō manage to live up to the director’s previous work?
Set in a small rural village in the southern prefecture of Shimane, Tennen Kokekkō follows the halcyon schooldays of Soyo Migita, a 15yr old girl in her final year of Middle school at the local village school. Including Soyo there are a total of 6 students at the school, combining Elementary students: 6yr old Sachiko, 8yr old Katsuyo, 12yr old Kotaro, and Middle Schoolers: 14yr olds Ibuka and Atsuko. Throughout her school life Soyo has been the eldest in the school, and the only boy she ever saw at school was her younger brother Kotaro, but all that changes when 15yr old Hiromi Osawa moves into the village from the bright lights of Tokyo. He’s here because his father ran off with another woman and his disgraced mother has returned to the hometown that she abandoned 15yrs ago. At first Hiromi is dismissive of the village’s facilities, which leads to great tension between him and the proud big sister of the school Soyo, but in time the affections of the two attractive teenagers brings them closer together. As their final year of middle school closes to an end and the impending switch to High School outside of the village looms closer and closer, the couple have to make big decisions about which direction to take in life, and whether it will have room for the sleepy village life.
Tennen Kokkekō’s English title is A Gentle Breeze in the Village, which if ever a title perfectly summed up a film then that is it. Tennen Kokkekō is an extremely charming, inoffensively gentle comedy drama, as he did so with Linda, Linda, Linda, Nobuhiro Yamashita takes a completely unassuming look at teenage life in a an extremely different setting, trying to maintain a sense of practicality and realism while at the same time emphasising the tranquil nature of the rural village. In doing so, Yamashita and scriptwriter Aya Watanabe have opted to break up the narrative into a series of episodes in the life of Soyo as she battles with her blossoming crush on Hiromi and the impending change in lifestyle that his arrival is ultimately heralding. Most of the humour in the film is hung around the naivety and superstitions of the village children and how vastly contrasting they are with your ordinary City teenager. Yamashita allows the comedy to breathe and develop in a very naturalistic manner, which usually results in a broad smile spreading across your face rather than loud belly laughs, but the gags certainly hit their mark more times than they miss.
The drama too is handled with great subtlety and naturalism, with Yamashita demonstrating particular skill in how he develops the opposing character arcs of the two central characters of Kaho and Hiromi. Kaho is the village girl who is facing a switch to high school, which she’ll have to attend in the nearest city. Even though it is a local city, it’s still a massive jump in population culture for her and the idea of leaving behind the quaint charms of her hometown is quite daunting. Hiromi on the other hand has moved from an active life in Tokyo to the lazy life of the country, and once his relationship to Kaho develops beyond friendship he has to make a decision whether to commit to Kaho and the life in the village she represents, or move to Tokyo so he can attend high school there. Both these developing issues are handled with great character by the lead actors of Kaho and Masaki Okada. At 19yrs of age Masaki is a bit older than Kaho, but he’s a relative newcomer to acting having only appeared in a couple of Japanese TV dramas prior to starring in Tennen. He carries himself in a very laid back manner on screen that make his performances seem assuredly naturalistic, which is perfect for the role of Hiromi. Kaho has a greater challenge because the film just wouldn’t work if her performance isn’t on the money, but she proves to be an extremely versatile young actress who is comfortable portraying a strong but alternating personality.
If Tennen Kokkekō has one major drawback then that would be that its strengths: the subtlety of the drama and gentle wit become something of a weakness when you consider that the film clocks in at just over two hours, which is simply too long a runtime for such a simplistic look at village life and a very straight forward gentle romance between two young teens. Indeed, much of the observations on rural schools and the children that inhabit them have been done many times before on film and TV in Japan, even recently in films like Fukagawa Yoshihiro’s Island Times. So there’s definitely a feeling that you’ve seen most of it all before, even though Yamashita’s film doesn’t get bogged down in melodrama like most recent efforts. Certainly, some of the episodes in Soyo’s life add nothing to the film that you couldn’t get from previous or later episodes, which means some segments of Tennen Kokkekō do drag. The story is also a little too involved with Soyo, as there’s a healthy amount of interesting supporting characters that are crying out for a bit of character development. Still, these foibles do not linger too long in an otherwise thoroughly pleasant little film.
PresentationPresented anamorphically at 1.83:1, Asmik Ace have provided a rather pleasing transfer. The colour scheme is rich and sharp with no bleed and only a little chroma noise, while skin tones are consistently natural. Contrast and brightness levels are also pretty natural, with perhaps just a tinge of darkness to the image. The print used is in pristine condition and is quite grainy, but the thankfully they haven’t tried to process the grain out, so the image maintains a solid degree of detail – although Edge Enhancements are clearly present throughout. Jaggies are also present in the odd frame, which suggests that this progressive image has been de-interlaced.
On the audio front there is a choice of Japanese DD2.0 or DD5.1, which is a surprise as low-fi dramas usually only get a DD2.0 track on r2j releases. The DD5.1 track manages to win out with a very pleasing sound that has strong dynamics, clear audible dialogue and deep bass reproduction, which maybe could do with tightening up just a tad – the important thing is that he bass is strong enough to give the dialogue and score a good solid feel. Most of the audio is pretty centred given the languid nature of the film, but when needed the stereo soundstage is wide and expressive, and the rears handle the ambient noise and score very well.
In comparison the DD2.0 soundtrack is pretty consistent with the DD.5.1 in terms of dialogue and bass reproduction, only naturally it’s much more restrained (read: quieter). The one noticeable difference is that ambient environmental sounds are a little lower in the mix, given the audio a slightly more uniform feel.
Optional Japanese and English subtitles are included, with no spelling errors that I can recall.
ExtrasUnfortunately none of the extra features in this 2-disc set feature English subtitles, so for the most part there’s little for Western viewers to get out of the extras.
On the 1st disc you’ll find the obligatory Theatrical Trailer and TV Spots, and there is also an Audio Commentary With Nobuhiro Yamashita, Kaho, and Quruli, at least I assume Kaho and Yamashita are joined by pop-rock duo Quruli: Shigeru Kishida and Satō Masashi (who provided the theme song for the film), as none of the commentators actually introduce themselves!
We’ve got just over 2hrs of extra material on the 2nd disc of this set, they consist of:
Making Of Footage: At 56mins long this is the most substantial extra feature and is your atypical video diary type featurette displaying behind the scenes footage throughout the film’s shoot. Mixing up the footage are studio interjections with the director and Manga writer Fusako Kuramochi, and on-set chats with the various young stars and certain members of the crew. The feature is presented in a way that they show you the preparation and start of the shooting of each scene, then cut to the finished scene as it appears in the film, so you know full well where the behind the scenes footage fits into the film. You do get a pretty comprehensive idea of how the shoot went and how much the young cast seemed to have bonded, and there doesn’t appear to be a tremendous amount of necessary dialogue in this feature, but the lack of subtitles and length of the footage does make it drag after a while. At least you get to see more of the beautiful locations though.
Deleted Scenes: There are 9 Deleted scenes in this section that run just under 10minutes in total, which gives you an idea of how short each one is, but you can choose to play them all in one go or each scene individually. Most of the scenes are brief sequences that flesh out the schoolgirl’s home lives and the school trip to Tokyo, but one or two are also either extended or alternate takes on scenes between Soyo and Osawa that are in the finished film.
Cast & Crew Interviews: As with the deleted scenes you can choose to play them all in one go or individually and the order of the interviews go: Kaho and Masaki Okada (Recorded separately but edited together), Koichi Sato and Yui Natsukawa (Recorded together), Nobuhiro Yamashita interviewing Quruli (Shigeru Kishida and Satō Masashi), and finally a post-festival-screening Q+A session with cinematographer Ryûto Kondô, scriptwriter Aya Watanabe, and composer Rei Harakami. It certainly seems like the latter two interviews would be the most interesting.
2007 Festival Tour Footage: This feature comprises of footage from the cast & director audience Q+A sessions from 3 different festival screenings, again as with previous features you can choose to watch this feature in one go, or the 3 sections separately. Yamashita, Kaho and Masaki Okada are joined by Koichi Sato, Yui Nakawa and Aya watanabe at the first screening, but the trio go it alone for the 2nd. The 3rd and final session includes Yamashita and the entire principal cast.
Aside from the extras on the DVDs, this Limited Edition release comes with an attractive booklet that features pictures and info on many aspects of the film. It also provides a comparison between the film and the manga, which suggests Yamashita tried to remain very faithful to the source.
OverallA naturalistic romantic comedy drama that leaves you in a much better mood than when you started watching, Tennen Kokkekō effectively evokes the mood and charm of the picturesque Japanese countryside. Do bear in mind though that at around 2hrs long, it requires a lot of patience. This r2j DVD from Asmik Ace provides as good an A/V representation of the film as you’re going to get on the DVD format, and the extras are naturally left unsubbed and therefore of little value for most Western viewers.
Last updated: 19/04/2018 00:28:09