At a glance, Heavenly Forest falls into the tradition of the extremely formulaic “Pure Love” subgenre that has become progressively popular in both Japan and South Korea recently. A select few of these films have been both fantastic and deeply moving, while the rest are most of the time rote, unaffecting exercises in business filmmaking. What is perhaps most exceptional about Heavenly Forest, then, is that despite whatever clichés it might contain (and it consists of many), the film’s central love never feels overly-manipulative or contrived. In fact, as audience members, we don’t recognize simply how invested we remain in that relationship up until the shipment of an abrupt wake-up call that many audiences may not totally expect.
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Heavenly Forest starts with narration from Makoto Segawara (Hiroshi Tamaki), a young Japanese guy on his method to New York for the very first time to reunite with his closest good friend and most likely his first love, Shizuru Satonaka (Aoi Miyazaki). She’s sent him a letter to notify him of the grand opening of a display showcasing her photography, and Makoto aspires to see her after a long lack.
The movie then flashes back to Makoto’s college days, eventually revealing us his first conference with Shizuru. With her dorky glasses, a severe case of bedhead, and an eccentric, completely questionable fashion sense, Shizuru is undoubtedly established as a social castaway. Certainly, Shizuru isn’t exactly “Ugly Betty” (she is played by the fetching Aoi Miyazaki after all), however in attitude, dress and appearance, she is certainly various from the popular girls at her school. Obviously, Makoto isn’t really exactly GQ good-looking either, as he’s a shy and incredibly uncomfortable young male, in no small part due to a curious rash that needs a generous application of ointment each day.
A fledgling photographer himself, Makoto eventually introduces Shizuru to the world of photography by taking her to a secluded area he has actually been checking out privately. Hidden by a “No Tresspassing” sign, this forest becomes a private sanctuary for the 2, as they both end up being quick buddies, regardless of their previous social awkwardness.
While it’s clear that these two share an apparent chemistry, Makoto has a crush on Miyuki (Meisa Kuroki), a more traditionally lovely, girl next door/prom queen-type. Ultimately, Makoto falls under Miyuki’s circle of good friends, and the typical “geek who in some way makes it with the cool crowd” plot turn goes right away into result. Naturally, they tease Shizuru, and she overhears, triggering a rift between she and Makoto. Eventually, they fix fences, and she attempts to befriend Miyuki, despite the fact that Shizuru has fallen head over heels in love with Makoto.
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If you believe all of this sounds familiar, you’re. Just go lease 1987’s John Hughes-written Some Kind of Wonderful to see this sort of storyline at its most earnest or take a look at Not Another Teen Movie for a dead-on skewering of the “Ugly Pretty Girl” plotline that has actually shown up in many teen films given that the 1980s. However even with these two referral points in mind, it’s noteworthy that Heavenly Forest actually alters things up a bit. Sure, the “cool crowd” might discover as jerks in the beginning, but they really turn out to be Makoto’s most devoted buddies rather than shallow preppies. Miyuki, the relatively one-dimensional object of Makoto’s affection, is revealed to have layers herself. And while the entire Makoto-Shizuru relationship may appear to discuss all these teen film clichés, what is most remarkable is the method in which Heavenly Forest only appears interested in raising the possibility of the clichés, before dropping them right away in favor of what audiences really desire: a story of 2 people learning more about each other and falling in love. Bad loves rely on low-cost, manufactured drama to own their plots, however Heavenly Forest is content to center on its characters instead.
Maybe that’s what makes the emotional sucker punch that comes late in the story so tough to take. Expectations are dashed in a manner that would’ve been telegraphed in a lower movie, however are appropriately camouflaged here. Certainly, the signs exist, but Heavenly Forest does a masterful job in making you think otherwise. A great action motion picture will convince an audience that the lead protagonist may not make it regardless of what all of us know generally takes place in action films. A similar sort of suspension of disbelief happens in this movie, although manipulated in another instructions. I rapidly put Heavenly Forest in the genre of “Pure Love,” however one would not necessarily understand that as they are watching the movie. Is it a romantic comedy? A romantic drama? An honest-to-goodness tearjerker? Response: all the above.
The plot twist is infuriating at initially, the filmmakers are in fact able to turn the whole melodrama into a positive. The method which the movie concludes verge on formula (a minimum of the last half-dozen or so “Pure Love” films I’ve enjoyed conclude with the reading of a letter), but Heavenly Forest has so totally invested the audience in the lives of its characters that it’s able to conclude in a method that is almost as satisfying as the ending one might’ve at first prepared for.
From a filmmaking viewpoint, Heavenly Forest is wonderfully shot and sound, but its fate as an effective romance hinges on the efficiencies of its actors. Hiroshi Tamaki does a great task as the geeky Makoto, an accomplishment which is just genuinely brought to light when comparing the sequences set throughout his college years and those happening in New York. In the past, everything about his body language recommends an uncomfortable dork, but without turning to any sort of reality-breaking exaggeration. Likewise, in the present day scenes, he encounters believably a mature and undoubtedly changed guy. The transformation is amazing, and it permits the last scene to resonate in a method it may not otherwise.
The genuine standout, however, is the film’s leading woman, Aoi Miyazaki. Granted, in Heavenly Forest, she’s got a smile that might illuminate a whole room and she’s most likely the most lovable she’s ever looked in any of her previous movies, but it’s not like the starlet tries to coast on simple cutesiness or, even worse, sickly sweet histrionics as other young starlets have. Miyazaki has an indisputable screen presence, and the numerous emotional states her character goes through are portrayed in a totally credible style. Both in terms of her character and efficiency, Aoi Miyazaki anchors the narrative, and when she is off-screen, her lack is significantly felt.
In spite of my reservations about these sorts of tearjerkers and my fervent belief that filmmakers need to begin developing much better ways to solve these “Pure Love” movies (and they possibly had little choice given that this is adjusted from a novel), Heavenly Forest stays a winning example of the genre. It’s definitely worth a look, if for no other factor than the charming, unquestionably magnetic efficiency of Aoi Miyazaki.
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