Story: Kaoru Amane (Yui) is 16 years old and suffers from XP syndrome, a rare disease that makes her allergic to sunlight and will also attack her nervous system at some point. She sleeps during the day and walks the streets at night playing one of her self-written songs. From her window, she can see the boy Koji Fujishiro (Takashi Tsukamoto) waiting at a bus stop every morning as he goes surfing with his friends. One day, she just starts talking to him when she sees him on the street, but her friend Misaki (Airi Toriyama) manages to stop her from embarrassing herself even more. To help Kaoru, she then spies on Koji and finds out a few things about him. One morning just before sunrise, Kaoru is sitting in front of her house at the bus stop playing a song on the guitar when Koji comes by. He is amazed by her song and wants to visit her during the upcoming holidays when she's playing on the street again. When the day finally arrives, someone already took Kaoru's place and Koji decides to drive her to Yokohama, where she then attracts a large audience with her song. Koji is very enthusiastic about her, and for Kaoru things finally seem to go her way too. If only it weren't for her illness, which looms over everything...
Review: The reason why "Midnight Sun" eluded me might be that it is obviously a hospital drama, of which there were a few in the 2000s, quite a lot of them from South Korea (such as "Closer to Heaven"). However, the fact that to this day the movie managed to fly under my radar is particularly weird because YUI plays the main role. She is one of the few Japanese musicians who has composed very lovely feel-good music, which you could listen to on a sunny Sunday morning while drinking coffee, music which even I like to play in the background to brighten the mood. So, a drama in which YUI leads us through the story with a few songs, that's already a promising premise. Fortunately, the flick doesn't struggle with one of the numerous obvious obstacles, such as potential hospital scenes or countless handkerchiefs being used.
The disease xeroderma pigmentosum, or XP in short, is at the center of the story and sets the movie's tone. There is an indefinable longing (for sunlight, love, a normal life etc.) that cannot be fulfilled. But just as YUI's songs incorporate a bit of sadness or melancholy here and there only to then bring hope to the fore, "Midnight Sun" too manages not to just depress us. Even though Kaoru is not a cheerful person, her first rather particular contact with someone other than her friend shows that she doesn't care all that much about what others think. This makes her quite likeable, and so does her smile when she secretly watches Koji goofing around. But none of this would have been necessary, because as soon as she sits down on the street and starts making music with her guitar, she does not only quickly manage to win over the rapidly growing crowd, but also us as viewers.
But Koji is also a very interesting character. Takashi Tsukamoto ("Outrage") plays a boy who seems a bit stupid, or rather just childish, but above all, he seems superficial. Just as Kaoru's girlfriend Misaki, you can't quite understand at first what the protagonist finds so special about him. But as time goes by, you can see that Koji has some rough edges too. After you realize that he has his heart in the right place and he starts opening up to Kaoru, the movie takes on a different dynamic. YUI sometimes seems pleasantly awkward as the protagonist, and even if that wasn't intentional, it's a perfect fit for the role. Nevertheless, Goro Kishitani ("Shield of Straw") as the father steals the show in a certain scene. And of all things, it is the only scene in which tears are shed. The fact that the movie uses them so sparingly is also one of its strengths. Despite that, you would have wished for the father (or especially the mother) to be fleshed-out a little more.
It's astonishing that "Midnight Sun" is actually a teen romance and a drama about a dangerous disease without feeling like one or being cheesy. If you're looking for something like that, though, you'll probably find it in the 2018 American remake starring Bella Thorne and Patrick Schwarzenegger (from what I've read). However, it's beyond me why you would want that. Because the original offers a Japanese reservedness during the inevitable drama that makes sure things are not pushed to extremes using the sledgehammer. Even when the movie clearly has to get more tragic, the drama is wrapped in such a way that you can still always see a silver lining on the horizon. Unfortunately, "Midnight Sun" is sometimes a bit too slow-paced. The ending, on the other hand, works quite nicely, which is not always a given with movies like that.
Nevertheless, the drama's biggest problem is actually the music. Because there is simply too little of it. YUI is only allowed to perform three of her songs. Even though she would later compose some better songs in her career, the pieces used here are certainly good. But since her songs also shape the mood significantly, you would have liked to hear more of them. If I hadn't already known her as a musician, I would have searched for her work after watching this movie. A lot of viewers will feel the same way and that creates some added value for the movie. Apart from that, director Norihiro Koizumi also deserves some praise for skillfully steering clear of the many kitschy pitfalls and for instead putting together a pleasantly unobtrusive drama, even though there would have been some room for improvement. Still, "Midnight Sun" is definitely worth a recommendation.