Sunday, November 17, 2013

Love, Actually (Usagi Drop Live Action)

Now here's an Orphan project I can recommend wholeheartedly: Usagi Drop, the live action movie. As readers of this blog know, I loved the anime and was fervently glad it stopped when it did. (Yes, that's a manga spoiler.) Then it was made into a live action movie and given an initial translation by zdzdz. I wasn't satisfied with that version, both because of the small video size (SD at 2:35:1 doesn't provide a lot of viewing area) and the usual suspects - translation, timing, and editing. So Orphan Fansubs has done a new, HD version, starting with the original translation. As usual, translation checking by laalg, with help from convexity; timing by archdeco; editing by Collectr; QC by CP. The song translations are crowd-sourced from the Internet. A big shout out of thanks to RHExcellion at Commie Fansubs, who graciously encoded the BDMV into a usable 720p raw. Commie declined the offer of joint credit, although I think "Orphan Commie" would have been a great addition to the collection of joint fansub group names. [He also made a 1080p raw, if someone with a lot of disk space wants to mux these subs into an even bigger version.]

Usagi Drop is a deceptively simple family story. The Kaga clan gathers at the funeral of their grandfather, only to find out that the old gent had secretly fathered (at age 73!) an illegitimate daughter, Rin, who is now six. Most of the family reacts in horror to this news and can only think of placing the girl in an orphanage or institution. This disgusts the bachelor grandson, Kawachi Daikichi, and he impulsively volunteers to take care of Rin. Only when he gets home and realizes how hopelessly unprepared he is to be a single parent does the enormity of his undertaking sink in.

Usagi Drop is not a dramatic story; indeed, it's more a comedy than anything else, albeit a gentle one. It's filled with the small events that by and large comprise parenthood: coping with the enormous drains on one's time; arranging for childcare; juggling parenting and work; dealing with bedwetting or illness; helping children adjust, make friends, and grow. There's nary a villain, superhero, mahou shoujo, loli, or teenager in sight. Even the initially cold reaction of the Kaga family warms over time, as they come to terms with Daikichi's decision and learn to support him.

The acting is good, and the child-actress playing Rin (Ashida Mana) is outstanding. Some viewers complain that Rin is preternaturally mature as well as overwhelmingly cute, but I think it's plausible that a child raised by a reclusive, elderly parent (more a grandparent, really) would be unusually reserved and self-reliant. The actor playing Daikichi (Matsuyama Kenichi) is conventionally good-looking but rather opaque; the script doesn't provide much insight into his thinking. (In fairness, the manga and anime didn't either.) Most of the other characters are merely sketched, but Rin's friend Kouki (Satou Roiki) and his mother (Nitani Yukari) both excel.

The film includes two musical numbers. The first is a fantasy interlude set to the hard-driving rhythms of "Die Konkurrenz" by the German rock group Wir Sind Helden. It doesn't seem very relevant to the film, except to prefigure Daikichi's eventual meeting with Kouki's mother, but it's a great song. The second is the ending credits, which use the full version of the Usagi Drop anime opening song, "Sweet Drops" by the Japanese duo Puffy. Be warned: it's an earworm, as so many J-pop songs are.

The film is not without flaws. According to Wikipedia, Max Schilling, the critic for The Japan Times, thought it relied too much on tear-jerking cliches. He's certainly right about the climactic scene, where Kouki and Rin run away from daycare to visit the grave of Kouki's father. This results in scenes of frantic searching through the streets, an encounter with an enigmatic young man on a bicycle, and other tension-heightening devices that are completely at variance with the tone of the film. Although it leads to an appropriate emotional catharsis, the payoff would, in fact, have been more impactful without the forced melodrama.

Still, that's a minor quibble. Usagi Drop is a live action film that doesn't look or play like a comic book or cartoon. It takes a positive but not Pollyana view of parents, children, and human nature. The ending is inconclusive, as it should be. Parenting doesn't stop with some conveniently climactic event. The story goes onward because, as the film concludes, "There are mothers and fathers everywhere. Actually, love is all around us."

No comments:

Post a Comment