Story: Juri (Riko Narumi) is neither especially popular in school nor hated by her schoolmates. Even though she
is happy that she hasn't to take on the role of the one being bullied by others the whole day, she nonetheless wishes to
be as popular as Hanada (Atsuko Maeda). After being absent from lesson for a week, she realizes at her return that
Hanada is suddenly the one bullied by her classmates.
Life also isn't easy for Juri. She isn't accepted by the school her parents want her to go to, and moreover, her mother and father are always arguing with each other. Eventually, the two get a divorce and Juri is living at her mother's from that day on.
Two years pass by until suddenly one day Juri hears news about Hanada. She is still being bullied, even at the new school she attends, and thus Juri sends her an e-mail, in which she introduces herself as a friend. Hanada is wondering what this is all about and seemingly can't remember Juri anymore, yet the tips she gets from her unexpected friend prove to be quite useful, and so Hanada can build up a certain popularity at the new school she just transfered to. However, Juri and Hanada seem to share the same problem: They put on a mask and play a role, without really knowing who they actually are deep inside.
Review: If you are making a film about self-discovery, then you easily run the risk to bore your audience with
forced and artificial moralizer-stuff. In "How to Become Myself" this looks a bit different, luckily, since the drama
works on a more subtle and credible level than what we are used to see. Yet, this also has a few downsides, because
this movie really doesn't stand as a work of entertainment, but a profound drama, which lacks an appealing pacing.
Nonetheless, if you can forgive these flaws then you will be rewarded with a movie, which characters turn out to be
very credible. And this is not only because of a good script based on the novel by Kaori Mado, but also thanks to two
really capable actresses. Even if you find this film to be dragging a lot at times, you will be recompensated at the
end with something that's not often to be found in movies nowadays. The honest and touching ending makes us aware
that "How to Become Myself" has something very unique: movie magic.
The story might revolve around two teenagers, but the themes dealt with are very universal, also. No doubt about it, being a teenager is a time when you are especially eager to find out who you really are and where you want to go in life. But this is also a problem of many adolescents - if not of all of them...
Who are we exactly, is a question we have to ask ourselves every time we are with our family, friends or strangers. To every one of them we show a different heart of ours. Does this mean that we play different roles depending with whom we interact? Don't we act differently when talking to our boss, then when we are with our mother? Therefore, maybe there is no homogenous "self", but only different masks we put on to be able to cope with reality more easily? An interesting question "How to Become Myself" sheds some light on in a quiet and comprehensive way.
Hanada gets tips from her friend Yuri how to become popular in her class, and it works out for her. But is this really her way to happiness? Do her classmates see the real Hanada or just an illusory image? Do we actually always show others an illusionary image of ours?
Director Jun Ichikawa ("Tony Takitani") doesn't just focus on Hanada, but in fact the movie's actual protagonist is Juri, who eventually has to realize, that the advice she gives her new friend are exactly the ones that make up her own life, resp. is the way she wants to live her life. She pretends to be a happy child, just to somehow be the glue between her parents who are quarreling day in and day out. And even though this doesn't work out, she still sticks to presenting herself as a happy teenager when in front of her parents, although she feels miserable that her parents divorced.
The film also depicts the everyday life of a typical teenager. As Juri says herself her family is quite the normal one, with its own share of serious problems. And Juri is just your ordinary student, who is neither sticking out in class nor has any enemies. This "normality" and "averageness" is actually what makes it so easy for us to relate to the drawn characters.
"How to Become Myself" also deals with the everlasting crowd-winner of bullying at school. There always has to be a victim, and how fast this victim can change is something we see in the case of Hanada. Atsuko Maeda deliveres a nice performance as the shy teenager who becomes more and more insecure, so that we can feel her dilemma of having lost track of her way. The little love story she has is also nice to look at, and luckily is everything but cheesy.
Riko Narumi ("1 litre of tears") is the movie's true heart. It's impressive how many emotions she is able to express especially towards the end. The movie works on several levels, which demands of the viewer to be attentive, yet the story itself remains minimalistic in the way that the director works almost solely with the protagonists, who make us understand their feelings and problems deep in our hearts.
Moreover, Jun Ichikawa also works with some nice film tricks. For example, he implements split-screens to depict the same scene from different angles, or he uses several text messages brought onto screen with colourful pictures. We already know all of this from several Korean romantic comedies, but in this case the text messages have a more important meaning, which makes them remind you more of the messages in "All about Lily Chou-Chou".
In the end, "How to Become Myself" drags a lot, isn't really what you would want to call an entertaining movie, yet it manages to be appealing thanks to profound and subtle worked in themes. How good this movie really works out becomes especially apparent at the end, when we are left with a content smile on our face, some answers and the certainness that we have to continue searching for them for ourselves.