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Crying Out Love, In The Center Of the World
  |     review    |     availability     |


DVD (Japan)
Region 2 NTSC
2-Disc Memorial Box
16 x 9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Japanese Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English and Japanese Subtitles
Various extras including a "Making of" DVD, theme song music clip, color visual book (40 pages), and Saku and Aki's wedding picture in a photo frame.

DVD (Korea)
Region 3 NTSC
EnterOne DVD
Boxed 2-Disc Special Edition
16 x 9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Japanese Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English, Korean, and Japanese Subtitles
Various extras including postcards, interviews, trailers, TV spots, and still gallery

Region 3 NTSC
Kam & Ronson Enterprise Co, Ltd
Special Edition
16 x 9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Japanese and Cantonese Language Tracks
DTS EX, Dolby Digital EX 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
Various Extras

Year: 2004
Director: Isao Yukisada
Producer: Minami Ichikawa, Kei Haruna
Writer: Shinobu Yaguichi, Junko Yaguich
Cast: Takao Osawa, Kou Shibasaki, Masami Nagasawa, Mirai Moriyama, Tsutomo Yamazaki, Kondo Yoshisawa
The Skinny: A well-told tale of tragic romance that, for the most part, avoids the emotional pitfalls typically associated with melodramatic tearjerkers. Aside from a bloated running time and a too pat resolution, there's little to complain about in Crying Out Love, in the Center of the World. With its compelling premise and winning performances (Masami Nagasawa, in particular) this film is one box office hit that lives up to the hype.
Review by Calvin McMillin:

     When you die, does love die, too? That's the question at the very heart of Crying Out Love, in the Center of the World, the 2004 box office sensation directed by Go's Isao Yukisada. Based on the best-selling romance by Kyoichi Katayama, the film stars Takao Osawa (Sky High) as Sakutaro Matsumoto, a brooding thirtysomething male engaged to the beautiful Ritsuko Fujimura (Kou Shibasaki from One Missed Call). But the seeming normalcy of this happy couple's life is interrupted by an incident straight out of Haruki Murakami's best work. While packing up boxes for a move, Sakutaro's fiancée discovers a cassette tape. After searching the local stores for a Walkman capable of playing the now obsolete technology, she finally listens to the cassette and hears a young girl's voice. Moved to tears by the tape's content, Ritsuko promptly walks out of Sakutaro's life, leaving him with only a cryptic note: "I'm going away for awhile. Don't worry about me."
     Confused and unsure of himself, Sakutaro heads to a bar to think things over. By pure chance, he receives an important clue to Ritsuko's whereabouts. While watching a live television report at the Takamatsu Airport during an impending typhoon, he sees his fiancée hobbling around (plot point!) in the background. The location sparks Sakutaro's memory banks, plunging the man's thoughts backwards in time, some seventeen years ago. His current situation, it seems, has origins in the past.
     The film then shifts perspective to 1986 with young "Saku" (now played by Mirai Moriyama) attending the funeral of his principal. During the ceremony, he becomes intrigued with the student chosen to give the eulogy: Aki Hirose (Masami Nagasawa), an intelligent "girl next door" type with a radiant smile and personality to match. Thanks to a seemingly chance encounter, Aki hitches a ride on Saku's motor scooter, and immediately, a relationship between the two soon blossoms. Not long after, the new couple decides to enter a late night radio contest to see who will be the first to hear their dedication played on the air. The prize? One brand new (for 1986 anyway) Sony Walkman offered by the radio station. The friendly contest soon turns sour when Saku's winning entry unintentionally offends Aki. Too upset to tell him why face-to-face, she explains her feelings via a cassette recording which she promptly hands over to an apologetic Saku. The two eventually decide to exchange tapes back and forth, telling each other stories, asking each other questions, and generally getting to know each other better in the face of their somewhat restrictive teenage circumstances.
     The narrative intercuts between the past and the present as we then follow the elder Sakutaro returning to his hometown, visiting old haunts, and eventually finding the cassettes Aki left for him. But it seems that Sakutaro isn't the only one who has returned. Ritsuko, too, wanders the same areas as her fiancé. But to what purpose? That question is tabled until the film's final act, but in the meantime, the audience is treated to a refreshingly well-drawn teenage love story, albeit one that harbors a secret.
     During their adventures, young Saku and Aki encounter Uncle Shige (Tsutomo Yamazaki), a relative of Saku's who runs the local photo studio. Through a series of events, they learn the story of Shige's long lost love, a woman he planned to marry, but didn't thanks the onset of war. But even after she married someone else, Uncle Shige admits that he's loved her from afar for all these years and continues to love her even in death. Now if one factors in the Romeo and Juliet references and the other general hints (if not out-and-out facts) the film drops, you're sure to figure out where this film is headed. Yep, you guessed it: Aki is sick. Real sick. I guess South Korea doesn't have a lock on the terminal illness tearjerker anymore.
     In an attempt to brighten her spirits, Saku promises to take Aki to Uluru, which she calls the "center of the world," a sacred place she's seen only in photographs. But as she grows sicker, will they be able to make it? And in the present day, will Sakutaro be able to reunite with his fiancée? The answer to both questions, it seems, resides in the intersection between both timelines.
     It's not hard to understand why Crying Out Love, in the Center of the World was such a box office smash. Although it certainly plays to the melodrama crowd, the execution of the material is head and shoulders above the kind of cloying, overly-sentimental pap that is often associated with the genre. That's not to say that the film doesn't stoop to that level every once in awhile, but when it does, it's hardly a groan-inducing moment.
     If there's any major complaint I could make about the film it would be that it feels about ten to fifteen minutes too long. The film drags a bit towards the end, and could have benefited from some careful editing. Another problematic aspect of the film is the usage of a last minute "surprise" involving Ritsuko that, while not entirely unexpected, is so coincidental that audiences will either love it or hate it outright. It's a storytelling move that could be considered alternatively clever or contrived depending on how much goodwill the film has accrued with the viewer up until that point. The problem with Ritsuko's connection to Saku's past is that it immediately resolves the problem of her having to deal with Saku's old relationship, recasting it in a different light that immediately glosses over the jealousies and insecurities that one might expect a woman in Ritsuko's position to feel, especially when she's "competing" with someone who was quite obviously the love of Saku's life. The revelation also opens a proverbial can of worms in terms of understanding Ritsuko's motivations for dating Sakutaro in the first place, not to mention her eventual decision to marry him. The film doesn't dwell on this aspect, and its decision to distract its viewers from even thinking about it, suggests that they don't want you to dwell on it either. The plot point doesn't undermine the entire film, but it is problematic nonetheless—which may be why it's not in Katayama's original novel.
     Although Takao Osawa and Kou Shibasaki are competent in the lead roles, the fate of the film really hangs on the performances of the two young actors, and they both pull through magnificently. As the less interesting half of the happy couple, Mirai Moriyama does a fine job as the young Saku. He uses his unique manga-character mug to great effect for scenes of comedy, romance, and tragedy, imbuing his character's journey from awkward teen to mature adult with a surprising sense of realism. Masami Nagasawa is a revelation as Aki Hirose, and a fine choice to play a character who so effectively changes her loved one's life. Able to convey intelligence, humor, and grace in the early going, Nagasawa is a charming screen presence, able to change the tone of scene with little more than a smile. The romance presented here is of the chaste variety, and although some may question the believability of such a thing in the face of impending doom, the actors pull it off extraordinarily well. If anything, this movie is an old fashioned romance made relevant for a contemporary audience.
     Ultimately, Crying Out Love, in the Center of the World is a film that celebrates the bloom of youth and the thrill of first love. Even so, the film isn't just about nostalgia, but about finding peace and starting over. In a world where real closure is hard, if not impossible to find, the bittersweet Crying Out Love, in the Center of the World provides it in spades. If liking this movie makes me a sentimental fool, so be it. (Calvin McMillin, 2005) Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen