One Million Yen Girl (2008) - Tanada
A 21-year old Suzuko (Yu Aoi of Hana and Alice and Shaking Tokyo segment from Tokyo!) has a criminal record from a minor incident. With this stigma in a strict society like Japan, it's quite difficult to lead a normal life: the neighbors' gossips and constant arguing at home gets too much for her. She decides to make a million yen and move out, go some place where no one knows her, find a job and work until make another million and repeat the process. The trouble started with her wanting to leave home and live independently anyway.
Suzuko first goes to a small seaside town and starts working at a concession stand. It turns out she is pretty good at making snow cones. When a local guy takes an interest in her, it is too close for comfort for our heroine. As soon as she reaches her goal, she takes off to a mountain village where she gets a job as seasonal peach harvester. With her fragile figure and girlish looks she attracts unwanted interests wherever she goes.
One Million Yen Girl is an interesting take on the road movie genre in the age of economic meltdown. Its first half plays out like a practical Japanese cousin of Into the Wild. But Suzuko is not snotty, nor proud. Rather, she is quite unsure of herself. With her bank book as her only friend, she travels, meets people and moves on before things get complicated socially.
The film takes a turn and becomes a standard romance when she gets a job at a gardening section of Home Depot style business in one city where she meets Nakajima (Mirai Moriyama), a serious college student. The attraction is mutual and she finally confides in him. To her surprise, he confesses his love for her. Should she stay or should she move on after accumulating another one million yen?
The strength of the film is in all too humanness of Suzuko. She thinks her journey is more to do with not standing up to her reality rather than about discovering herself. This makes her more endearing to watch (Thanks to writer/director Yuki Tanada's acute observation and maturity). With her fragility and "troubled smile', Aoi encompasses the young woman on the brink of adulthood. With its bittersweet ending, one can only hope for a sequel.
ONE MILLION YEN GIRL is screening on July 8th (8:30PM) at Japan Society as part of 2010 Japan Cuts.
Review at Twitch