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(left) Masami Nagasawa and (right) Hayami Mokomichi Rough it.
Year: 2007  
Director: Kentaro Otani  
  Writer: Arisa Kaneko, Mitsuru Adachi (original manga)
  Cast: Masami Nagasawa, Hayami Mokomichi, Tsuyoshi Abe, Yui Ichikawa, Mai Takahashi
  The Skinny: This live action adaptation of the popular manga starts off strongly, but settles into standard dramatic fare about midway through. Likeable actors, an enjoyable first half, and a curious last act revelation don't totally make up for film's underdeveloped characters and roughly-drawn story arcs, but they certainly don't hurt.
Review by Calvin McMillin:      Rough may sound like an odd name for a film focusing on the budding romance between a swimmer and a high diver, but this seemingly peculiar title choice does come to make more sense as the story unfolds, most significantly when a supporting character announces, "All great art begins with a rough sketch." Although this metaphor is meant to describe the various athletes staying together at a coed dormitory for the summer, it comes to have greater meaning for the film's two lead characters, swimmer Keisuke Yamato (Hayami Mokomichi) and high diver, Ami Ninomiya (Masami Nagasawa). The lanky, handsome, but comically awkward Yamato has great talent, but it still a bit rough around the edges when it comes to actual technique or effort. Ami's "roughness" is a bit harder to define, as it is much more internal - something that cannot be solved by cutting to a rousing training montage.
     Based on the 1980s manga by Mitsuru Adachi and adapted to the big screen by NANA director, Kentaro Otani, Rough showcases a would-be romance that gets off to a shaky start. While passing one another after a swimming competition, Ami calls Yamato a "murderer" and walks off on her not-so merry way. The low key Yamato, as well as the audience, is a bit stunned by her out of left field declaration. As it turns out, the two have a history (one that I won't spoil here) that accounts for Ami's seeming hatred for Yamato. Ami is enamored instead with Hiroki Nakanishi (Tsuyoshi Abe), a slightly older swimmer who is not only the national record holder, but Yamato's personal idol. Considering the precise number of attractive people, not to mention the obvious passions involved, it's clear that a love triangle is just about to bubble to the surface. Add in an admirer of Yamato's played by NANA 2's Yui Ichikawa, and you've got plenty of conflict in store. But does Rough capitalize on any of it?
     Rough itself begins strongly enough; the film is full of visual gags, captioned freeze frames, and an inventive usage of flashbacks that give it a vitality that it never quite recaptures once it settles into its more straightforward, frankly run-of-the-mill teen drama plot. The central metaphor of "roughness" is - perhaps appropriately, I suppose - not that well developed. For instance, Yamato's alleged central flaw is supposed to be that his laid-back demeanor is more or less a cover for his own cowardice. But we really only know this because there's a scene in which he's confronted by his roommate to "show his emotions," but the scene is more bewildering than it is enlightening. Sure, Yamato might take his friend's words to heart, but we as an audience are just left scratching our heads.
     Ami's dilemma stems from her allegiance to Hiroki, who has been a childhood friend, a benefactor of sorts, and clearly something more. Ami may call him "big brother" publicly and seems to merely have a "pure love" crush on him, but the fact that she has a key to his apartment, as well as other small clues, implies that their relationship is much more adult than Ami's girl-next-door demeanor might suggest. The problem here is that so much is left to the imagination in regards to her connection with Hiroki that her dilemma seems to be little more than a plot point and not something we can truly empathize with beyond the catalogue of facts we are given about her sense of indebtedness to Hiroki. In situations like these, the film often relies on melodramatic music to communicate what we are supposed to be feeling as an audience, but does the film itself truly earn that emotional reaction? I don't think it does.
     Masami Nagasawa, who hit it big with Crying Out Love in the Center of the World and lent her talents to both Touch and Tears for You, brings that same "It Girl" quality to Rough, this time portraying a character who differs from those seen in her previous films. Ami's cool exterior and active dislike of Yamato gives Nagasawa a chance to play emotions we haven't yet seen from her. Further, the fact that Ami herself isn't quite as idealized or innocent as Nagasawa's other roles is also a nice change of pace. And although clearly not an unattractive fellow, Nagasawa's co-stor Hayami Mokomichi credibly portrays Yamato as goofy and sometimes a bit dim, avoiding any Teen Beat-style preening in favor of servicing the story and creating an immediately likeable protagonist. The problem, as has already been mentioned, is the underdeveloped storyline. Considering that the film is based on a manga, I wouldn't be surprised if much of the original comic's plot was truncated at the expense of a 106 minute running time. Whatever the case may be, both actors give their all to help finish the race, as it were, even if the film itself doesn't exactly come in first place.
     Two characters who seem to get the short shrift are Hiroki Nakanishi (Tsuyoshi Abe) and Kaori Koyonagi (Yui Ichikawa). Hiroki never seems more than a Japanese version of a preppie villain from 1980s teen movie, albeit one stripped of his nastier traits. This is somewhat understandable considering his status as the Yamato's main rival, but the character of Kaori feels even more like a supporting character that was underutilized and woefully unexplored. In my review of NANA 2, I was a bit hard on actress Yui Ichikawa for her portrayal of Nana Komatsu, but in Rough, she shines brightly, even when she's standing next to an über-girl-next-door type like Masami Nagasawa. Although I know next to nothing about the original manga, I can't help but feel there was a larger, more complex role for their characters.
     Ultimately, I have mixed feelings for Rough. The film climaxes with what is effectively a swimming contest over a girl, one in which the outcome is already foretold to anyone even half-heartedly paying attention. Formula is fine, as long as a) the ingredients aren't stale and b) they're mixed correctly. But after a strong start, the film slips into standard teen fare that lacks any real emotional punch at story's end. Rough even goes so far to deny the viewer any onscreen resolution, instead resorting to voiceover, as if romance is purely a mathematical equation. I'm sorry, but even if a film provides a solution to the narrative's central problem that in and of itself isn't satisfying. There has to be more.
     Yet even as I voice these complaints, I think the performances of the actors as well as the film's strong first half make it worth recommending. Also, there's a nice little revelation that occurs in the film's second half that might enhance one's enjoyment of Rough's already amusing first half, as this simple bit of information alters one's perspective on a particular character's behavior. Rough may be visually polished, but it feels a lot like a work-in-progress and thus lives up to its seemingly peculiar title. Whether you'll enjoy it or not may be largely dependent on what you think about all those rough edges. (Calvin McMillin, 2007)
Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
Panasia Films Limited/Kam & Ronson
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Japanese Language Track
Dolby Digital EX 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
images courtesy of Copyright ©2002-2017 Ross Chen