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Love Strikes! (Moteki)
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by Jay Seaver

"Two strikes, but not close to out."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2012 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: "Love Strikes!" ("Moteki") is a somewhat rare case of a movie starting off as one thing - a zany musical romantic comedy - and becoming all the better when it becomes something a bit more conventional. Both types of movie are promising, but calming down does this movie some good.

"Moteki", apparently, refers to a period when one suddenly and for no apparent reason becomes much more attractive to the opposite sex, and recently happened to Yukiyo Fujimoto (Mirai Miryama). Now he's back to being a loser, or so it seems - he's just been hired by Takuya Sumida (Lily Frankly) to write for pop-culture website "Natalie", and the twitter follower that he meets turns out to be a cute girl, Miyuki Matsuo (Masami Nagasawa) who also writes for an online zine and shares a lot of his interests. She's got a boyfriend, but she's also got a sister, Rumiko (Kumiko Aso), who's pretty fun to hang out with. It's beginning to look like Yukiyo is having another moteki.

Though it's understandably not being promoted as such while on the North American festival circuit, Love Strikes! is a continuation of the Moteki TV series (itself based on a manga), with Miriyama and a few others resuming their roles. Not knowing this, the opening narration threw me a bit - I thought the "four girls" thing was what a tease of what this movie was about rather than a recap of what had already happened - but once past any such confusion, that set-up doesn't matter very much. The important bits (30-ish pop-culture-loving nerd meets nice girls, things get complicated) require no introduction.

The movie does have a bit of a split personality, with (mostly) the first half being bright and stylized. That can be an awful lot of fun, especially when it gets into musical mode. Sometimes, karaoke lyrics pop up on screen when a pop song or ballad appears on the soundtrack to match Yukiyo's mood. Other times, it goes into full-on musical numbers/music videos, some of which are hilariously incongruous - Yukiyo is a stereotypically nerdy fellow, so when he's joining J-pop girl-group Perfume, it's kind of weird. Yukiyo also narrates, and the audience's mileage may vary there. The idea of it being very subjective and reflecting sudden mood swings is pretty funny, but there's an awful lot of it.

And then Rumiko appears, and things get interesting in a different way. Kumiko Aso works her way into the foreground in such a way that may have many in the audience wondering why Yukiyo is spending so much time mooning over the second-coolest girl/sister in the movie, and every new misstep on the characters' parts making it harder to see how things end well, but also making the main characters and their relationships more complex. Things get a little herky-jerky here too - the last act goes back and forth quite a bit - but it's pretty nicely done.

And though Kumiko Aso and her character easily become my personal favorites in the movie - she goes from nervous to fearless to heartbreaking with style - the other members of the main triangle aren't bad either. Marai Moriyama plays a good befuddled nerd who doesn't really have a layer of cool underneath and is both frustrating and sympathetic when he steps in it again and again. Masami Nagasawa does a very nice job of not making her character cross a line to unlikable as Miyuki wraps Yukiyo around her finger; it would be easy for her to become just the bad sister but she's never close to that. Riisa Naka and Yoko Maki are both entertaining as (respectively) the sexy bartender and impatient co-worker that try to jolt Yukiyo out of his self-pity, and Lily Frankly is funny as his horndog of a boss who nevertheless does take an interest in his employees.

Screenwriter/director Hitoshi Ohne (who also worked on the TV series) does a nice job integrating the movie's broader and more intimate halves; the movie jumps between being very funny and honestly serious without leaving the audience in the lurch. The music is good throughout, and I suspect that those who like Japanese pop will get a real kick from the soundtrack. And it is impressive just how well the movie works for those of us in the audience who don't know the TV show/manga/music.

"Love Strikes!" is messy, quite literally at the end, in a good metaphor for the situations Yukiyo and the Matsuos have created for themselves. Mostly, it's messy in a good way, getting relationships tangled while still keeping everyone involved worth watching.

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originally posted: 08/01/12 03:37:46
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2012 New York Asian Film Festival For more in the 2012 New York Asian Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2012 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the Fantasia International Film Festival 2012 series, click here.

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Directed by
  Hitoshi One

Written by
  Hitoshi One

  Masami Nagasawa
  Mirai Moriyama
  Kumiko Aso
  Yoko Maki
  Lily Franky

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