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Original Title:
Sekai no chūshin de, ai o sakebu

Japan 2004

Drama, Romance

Isao Yukisada

Takao Osawa
Masami Nagasawa
Mirai Moriyama
Kou Shibasaki
Tsutomu Yamazaki
Kanji Tsuda
Kankuro Kudo
Rio Kanno
Issei Takahashi
Tetta Sugimoto

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Crying out Love in the Center of the World

Story: Sakutaro (Takao Osawa) is in his mid-30s, leads an average life and is about to marry his beautiful girlfriend Ritsuko (Kou Shibasaki). However, after Ritsuko finds a strange audio tape on which the voice of a woman is recorded, she suddenly vanishes with the simple words that she'll be away for a while. By accident, Sakutaro sees her on TV in a life report about an approaching taifun. She seems to be visiting his home town, but what is she doing there?
This evokes memories in Sakutaro. 17 years ago he fell in love with a classmate. "Saku" (Mirai Moriyama) as he has been called in these days, meets the athletic and smart Aki (Masami Nagasawa), and the two go out together. When they hold a contest which winner will be the one whose favorite song is played first in a certain radio show, Saku comes up with a story about a girlfriend, who is suffering from leucaemia. He eventually wins and even gets a walkman from the radio station. Aki isn't really happy about his lie, yet the two get closer and closer as days pass by. They share their secret feelings for each other through audio tapes. Nonetheless, fate is throwing obstacles in their path, and soon Aki tells her boyfriend, that she actually is fatally ill...
In the present Sakutaro revisits old places from his memory and tries to finally cope with the death of his girlfriend several years ago. Can Ritsuko help him on his journey and how exactly does she fit in this story?

Review: "Crying out Love in the Center of the World" surely has to remind us of movies like "Love Letter" or "Failan". In all these movies we are told a love story that lies in the past, yet engage our protagonists in the present once again. Past things are reawakened and we have to find out that the saying "time heals all wounds" is wrong, if you don't face your pain and agony caused by a tragedy, eventually. For Sakutaro the time has come to do exactly that. And so we get a classic love story, which outcome is already written and known by the audience right from the start. Still, or maybe just because of that the story is pretty engaging and delivered without much kitsch. Even though you oftentimes get the feeling to watch a typical tearjerker drama, the movie in the end manages to withdraw from this stereotype, making this one of the biggest strenghts of the film.

The story is based on a novel by Kyouichi Katayama and takes place on two different time levels. The shifting between these different levels is very fluent and done pretty well. Yet, there is also a problem that the film shares with the likewise classic romantic drama "The Classic". The time level of the present only serves as a framework, leaves only little space for other individuals than Sakutaro himself, and moreover is just a mirror, a gate to the past, where the main part of the movie takes place. Most of the time this can be rather frustrating as we see only little of Ritsuko. Kou Shibasaki ("One Missed Call") has nearly nothing to do, the film doesn't take some time to shed some light onto her feelings or her envy for Sakutaro's love for Aki, and also misses to bestow some depth of any kind upon her character. This is even the more odd as she is closely linked to the events in the past, as we will find out later on in the movie. So why isn't she really a part of the story?

The love story between the two young lovers almost appears to be stereotypical, yet despite some cheerful and even funny scenes we luckily never get that overdone light-hearted atmosphere, we have been introduced to by so many Korean pictures. Still, the moments between the two are the most entertaining, and especially Masami Nagasawa manages to imbue her role with a lot of depth. All in all, she gives the best performance of the cast. Particularly, it's the small changes in her character that she conveys really well. However, Mirai Moriyama can also be very convincing concerning this aspect. At the beginning he seems a bit too boyish, yet later on he almost seems to be a grown-up. Together with his female partner he manages to carry the drama part of the film with ease.
Takao Osawa ("Aragami", "Sky High") is allowed to shed some tears, especially towards the end, and he does so pretty well. Other than that his performance is best described as decent, which is mainly because the really important part of the movie takes place in the past and so he oftentimes is degraded to being nothing more than a chain link to the past. Only towards the end he can show a little bit more of his true acting abilities and he even manages to give his character some more layers.

Director Isao Yukisada ("Go") creates a nice piece of film, that doesn't feel too cheesy despite many hospital scenes. Moreover, the film also tries to convey important messages and questions on a subtle level. Does the love for an individual fade away when that person dies? Yukisada also points out that it is important to work up the death of a beloved one in order to be able to finally let go and continue one's life. This very aspect is what's making "Crying out Love in the Center of the World" so interesting. The main character is unable to continue living his own life, as he never really coped with the death of his former girlfriend.
The director even bestows different layers upon his work, by implementing apparent parallels to "Romeo and Juliet" and a story revolving around Saku's uncle Shige, who also has to live on without ever having been able to share his life with his only true love. At the same time the director always takes it very seriously to connect the past with the present as seamlessly as possible. This he achieves through many repetitions of one kind or the other. That way we come across the same dialogue between Aki and Saku concerning Sakutaro's name and its origin, even verbatim in the present, again. Or it's just the sets that somehow make us feel at home.

Nevertheless, the film has to struggle with some flaws. Although Yukisada's work is less lengthy than it had to be assumed with its 138 minutes running time, there are still many scenes, that somehow feel too much stretched. The majority of these scenes isn't even that important to the plot and most of them are scattered throughout the end. Moreover, there are many coincidences that seem too contrived, especially concerning the reiteration of some scenes.

Apart from that you have to give the director credit for not creating a manipulative drama. Here the filmmakers don't intend to go for some easy tears, but instead they deal with a tragic love story in an earnest and subtle way, that even succeeds in giving us a message on our way, and leaves us with a bittersweet feeling in our heart, when the credits hit the screen, eventually.
"Crying out Love in the Center of the World" may not be as entertaining as the average Korean tearjerker, but for this we have a way more profound work here, that has more integrity than 10 of them put together.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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