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Heaven's Bookstore
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DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
Kam & Ronson
2-Disc Set
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Japanese Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS ES
Removable English and Chinese subtitles
Various extras

Year: 2004
Director: Tetsuo Shinohara
Cast: Yuko Takeuchi, Tetsuji Tamayama, Teruyuki Kagawa, Yoshio Harada
The Skinny: An easy breezy meditation of life before and after death, Heaven's Bookstore features some nice scenery and a star performance by Yuko
Takeuchi. Those looking for a ponderous film that requires hard thinking and a long discussion may want to apply elsewhere.
Kevin Ma:
     Does love go beyond the span of a human life? Can true love exist even in heaven? Where do we go after we die? These are some of the questions Heaven's Bookstore, an adaptation of not just one, but two bestselling Japanese novels, tries to answer. Heaven's Bookstore combines a fantasy involving life in heaven with a simple drama about characters searching for redemption for lost love on earth. As heavy as the subject matters seem, the film manages to be touching and lighthearted enough that everything goes down easier despite being somewhat simplistic.
     Heaven's Bookstore opens with Kenta (Tetsuji Tamayama), a failing classical pianist, being brought to heaven by Yamaki (Yoshio Harada) to work in a bookstore where books are read aloud to customers. Apparently, each person has a 100-year lifespan, and if a person dies before they reach 100 years of age, the rest of their years are spent in heaven waiting for reincarnation. However, Kenta isn't dead, he's just there as a part-time worker for some unknown reason (which is only slightly hinted at towards the end of the film). One day, Shoko (Yuko Takeuchi) goes to the bookstore and Kenta immediately recognizes her as the pianist who inspired him to play the piano as a child.
     Kenta and Shoko become friends, and inspired by Kenta's passion, Shoko begins to teach him how to master the piano - though Shoko, who is deaf in one ear cannot play the piano herself. In return, Kenta helps Shoko complete the unfinished piano piece she was working on before her death. Meanwhile, Shoko's niece Kanako (in a Love Letter-style twist, Kanako is also played by Yuko Takeuchi) tries to revive the town fireworks show for the first time in over 12 years. The show features Wabi, a type of Japanese fireworks also known as the "Loving Fireworks", which made the shows legendary at one time. But Kanako has to first convince the talented fireworks craftsman Takimoto (Teruyuki Kagawa), the only man in the region who can make Wabi, to come out of retirement, plus get over his guilt from the accident 13 years ago that left Shoko deaf in one ear.
     Instead of filling the film with special effects and clever twists to tie the two plots together, director Tetsuo Shinohara combines the two simple stories by not concentrating on any intricate plotting or the logistics of heaven (apparently Japanese is the official language of heaven and it looks conspicuously like Hokkaido in springtime). Instead, he focuses on his characters and their individual dilemmas. Heaven's Bookstore doesn't strive to resolve all the questions one would have about life and death, and instead presents a cast of characters that tries to leave their pasts behind. While not all the characters are equally compelling, Shinohara does make sure that the audience cares about them enough that the touching moments of the film work. However, the pleasantness of the proceedings means the film never manages to elevate itself beyond light entertainment to a work that would at least stir philosophical discussion.
     The performances are surprisingly mixed. Tetsuji Tamayama fails to step up as the leading man by looking lost instead of inspired, and Teruyuki Kagawa overplays his tormented Takimoto in the emotional scenes, making him seem more crazed than regretful. On the other hand, Yuko Takeuchi convincingly plays the two central characters with class, creating two distinct personalities and goals - one trying to move on from the past, and the other trying to revive it. Takeuchi's ability to convey the various emotions of the two characters makes this a true star performance.
     While Heaven's Bookstore features some beautiful people, nice scenery, and emotional moments that might even bring a tear or two, it's definitely not a romance at heart. A few of the major characters do long for romantic love, but love in Heaven's Bookstore is really about love for family, for life, for nostalgia, and even for piano playing. That is perhaps the best thing about Heaven's Bookstore; Shinohara didn't need to give the film unrealistic romantic moments (especially where any romance between Shoko and Kenta - considering the 20-year age difference in their characters - would seem creepier than touching.) and kept the characters true to their nature. While the film's failure to turn the heaven idea to something beyond a simple gimmick will probably draw some criticism, those looking for a sweet and simple film for a weekend afternoon will find that the simplicity of the plot works just fine. (Kevin Ma 2006) Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen