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Midnight Sun
  |     review    |     notes     |     availability     |    

YUI sings her song to the sun in Midnight Sun.
Japanese: Taiyo no Uta  
AKA: A Song to the Sun  
Year: 2006  
Director: Norihiro Koizumi  
  Producer: Yoshiro Hosono
  Cast: YUI, Takashi Tsukamoto, Kuniko Asagi, Eri Fuse, Gaku Hamada, Goro Kishitani, Takashi Kobayashi, Magy, Sogen Tanaka, Airi Toyama, Hajime Yamazaki
  The Skinny: A young singer-songwriter embarks on a summer romance with a would-be surfer in Japan's latest contribution to the terminal illness tearjerker subgenre. Although Midnight Sun dims midway through for a bit, the film's understated approach, likeable characters, and undeniably rousing finale make it a memorable, if somewhat rushed endeavor.
Review by Calvin McMillin:      Midnight Sun belongs to a romantic subgenre that my esteemed colleague Kozo dubbed the "Asian terminal illness tearjerker" in his review of the Korean sob-fest A Moment to Remember. The plot is always the same: boy meets girl, boy finds out girl has a debilitating illness, and boy loses girl permanently. Roll credits. Considering the sheer predictability of such a formula, what accounts for the continued popularity of these three hankie films? What keeps audiences coming back for more? Edgar Allan Poe once wrote, "The death […] of a beautiful woman, is, unquestionably, the most poetical topic in the world." As creepy as that may sound, there must be something to what Poe said, especially if you consider some of the better examples that have emerged from Japan, Korea, and Hong Kong. When it all comes down to it, there is something inherently romantic about people finding love on borrowed time.
     On the flipside, however, it's so very easy to be cynical about these movies. There's been a rash of these pictures in the last few years, some worse than others, and there's just something so coldly calculative about using a disease to propel your romantic love plot, as we've seen leukemia, cancer, AIDS, and even Alzheimer's disease become fair game in both Japanese and Korean cinema. Personally, I'm waiting for osteogenesis imperfecta (brittle bone disease) to get its due, which oddly enough is one condition that would fit perfectly with the "innocent love" theme that typifies these movies.
     But until then, I'll happily make do with Midnight Sun, which adds a new disease to the list, xeroderma pigmatosa. Also known as Taiyo no Uta ("A Song to the Sun"), the film centers on Kaoru Amane (YUI), a sixteen year old girl who suffers from the aforementioned skin condition, which makes her fatally vulnerable to ultraviolet radiation. As a result, Kaoru sleeps in the daytime and lives by night. After having a quick meal with the folks upon waking up in the evening, Kaoru takes her guitar in hand and sings in the street for fun. When she returns to her home before sunrise, she begins to take notice of a high school student named Koji Fujishiro (Takashi Tsukamoto), who usually waits at the bus stop outside her house to go surfing with his pals. After developing a crush on the young would-be surfer, Kaoru summons up the courage to talk to him, and although there's some initial confusion, the two decide to meet up in what becomes a whirlwind first date to end all first dates. But of course, they're having so much fun that Kaoru loses track of time. Can she get home in time to beat the sunrise? And will Koji still want to date her, considering her illness?
     The answer to both questions is, of course, a great big yes. From this point forward, I'll try to be coy with the rest of the details, but any viewer even remotely familiar with the conventions of the genre will be able to plot out much of the remaining story. Even so, the filmmakers behind Midnight Sun should be commended for not pouring on the Korean-style melodrama, as the film takes a fairly matter-of-fact approach to both Kaoru's disease and the romance between the two teenagers. Even better, humor is often employed to deflate scenes just as they seem to be on the verge of becoming overly manipulative or emotional. Although the two young leads maintain much of this balance, Goro Kishitani turns in a nice performance as Kaoru's father, who alternates between grieving parent and comic relief in an utterly believable and welcome way.
     But while it's refreshing that Midnight Sun doesn't try to force the tears from its audience with overblown pathos, it is worth mentioning that the film loses a bit of momentum sometime after Kaoru's illness is made known to Koji (which itself unfolds in a way strongly reminiscent of Crying Out Love in the Center of the World). Furthermore, the speed at which Koji goes from "Be my girlfriend" to "I love you!" is ridiculously fast, and while I'll agree that teenage love often goes like that, one would've hoped for a more extended, one-on-one development of their relationship, particularly since the film itself seems to slow down at this point. The actors do what they can to convey the increased emotional attachments they have for one another, but there's definitely something missing in the Kaoru/Koji relationship from the time he's told of her condition to the film's conclusion.
     But what a conclusion! Those expecting a heavy downer will be pleasantly surprised by Midnight Sun. While the terminal illness tearjerkers have a tendency to end with a whimper rather than a bang, Midnight Sun crescendos with a surprisingly rousing conclusion that more than makes up for the lost momentum of the film's heel-dragging second act. At the finish, director Norihiro Koizumi uses his female lead's talents to their finest and creates a perfect marriage of image and sound, resulting in an ending that is both exhilarating and fittingly touching. Although the film definitely has some structural and developmental problems, when all is said and done, Midnight Sun defies the genre by ending on a high note, and if you're a sucker for a movie that explores "the most poetical topic in the world," this is one rare cry-fest that's likely to leave you soaring. (Calvin McMillin, 2007)
Notes: • The three songs performed by YUI in Midnight Sun are available on a single entitled Good-bye Days (along with an instrumental version of the theme song), and the actual CD looks exactly like the generic white CD featured in the film.
Midnight Sun ("Taiyo no Uta") has been adapted as a Japanese TV drama, starring Erika Sawajiri and Takayuki Yamada.
• The film bears more than a passing resemblance to Derek Yee's multiple award-winning 1993 film, C'est la vie, mon chéri.
Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Japanese Language Track
Dolby Digital-EX 5.1 / DTS-ES
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
  Copyright ©2002-2017 Ross Chen