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One Million Yen Girl

Ryusei Sato (left) and Yu Aoi (right) in One Million Yen Girl.


Year: 2008
Director: Yuki Tanada  

Yuki Tanada


Yu Aoi, Mirai Moriyama, Ryusei Sato, Pierre Taki, Sumie Sasaki, Takashi Sasano, Kota Mizumori, Terunosuke Takezai,

The Skinny: Yu Aoi shines as an unlikely ex-con in Yuki Tanada's pleasing and quietly winning road movie.
by Kozo:

Director Yuki Tanada's One Million Yen Girl charms, in no small part due to its star, the wonderful Yu Aoi. As unlikely ex-con Suzuko, Aoi is reserved yet emotionally strong, and possesses a forthright determination even if what she's determined to do is keep running away. Suzuko's stint in the big house comes after a series of bad circumstances lands her with an awful roommate, their dislike escalating to bad blood before she inadvertently does something that gets her arrested. The letter of the law dictates Suzuko's sentence, but is she really deserving of a criminal record? Not at all, but that's what she receives. Life is not known for being fair.

Suzuko was also unlucky at the family lottery, and has ineffectual parents and a snotty little brother named Takuya (Ryusei Sato) who's petulant about having a criminal for an elder sister. Fed up with scorn both at home and in town (she's routinely chastised for being an ex-con by snarky neighbors), Suzuko takes to the road, where she decides upon a transient lifestyle dictated by her earnings. Basically, she'll arrive in a new town, save a million yen and then move on, her rationale being that a million is what she'll need to set up (i.e., pay the security deposit for a new rental apartment) at each new stop. Meanwhile, she writes letters to her brother, who despite his initial disapproval comes to see something admirable in his elder sister.

Suzuko's plan is to exist below the radar, meeting few people and making no friends. Of course, nobody else gets her memo and she inevitably and unwillingly becomes a part of people's lives. The film follows Suzuko as she makes three stops, first at a seaside town, second at a small village renowned for its peach trees, and third in a neighboring city where she takes up a job at a home supply store. In each location she finds connection where she doesn't want it, with Tanada milking quietly quirky situations to pleasing effect. The film contains some off-kilter characters, but they aren't over-the-top, overacting movie types. Mostly, the people Suzuko meets are quite normal, with her desire for a closed off existence making her the real oddball.

Still, you're unlikely to meet an oddball as lovely or with more character than Suzuko. Aoi Yu's performance is naturally reserved, but there's always more going on behind her reticence, whether it's seen in her eyes or through her tentative body language. One Million Yen Girl is essentially about running away, from both others and oneself, and it's a theme relevant to all the main characters Suzuko, her little brother Takuya, and also Ryohei (Mirai Moriyama of Crying Out Love, in the Center of the World), Suzuko's co-worker at the home supply store. The theme gives the film identifiable audience connection, and is made more effective by its silent, natural development and the characters' admirable growth.

Youth romance fans should dig Ryohei and Suzuko's romance, which starts sweetly and tentatively before giving way to some largely predictable tension. The resolution of their romance is not completely crowd-pleasing; though Suzuko grows as a person, there's a certain open-endedness that's bound to frustrate some. At the same time, the denouement feels absolutely right, ending the film on an optimistic and freeing note that's pitch-perfect in emotion. The film's slower pace, rural settings and smaller details are relaxing and innately pleasing, and make observing Suzuko's situation a low key, but ultimately very enjoyable affair. However, the film succeeds in large part due to its quietly stellar leading lady. As the One Million Yen Girl, Yu Aoi is worth following from city to city, town to town, anywhere she chooses to go. (Kozo, Reviewed at the Udine Far East Film Festival, 2009)

Availability: DVD (Taiwan)
Region 3 NTSC
Japanese Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English Subtitles

image credit: Udine Far East Film Festival Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen