Tremble All You Want

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 07/13/18 12:54:39

"An enjoyable play on searching for The One."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

SCREENED AT THE 2018 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: There are a lot of things that impressed me in "Tremble All You Want", well worth breaking down and pointing out, but since it's a movie centering on one character who is in almost every scene, she had better be good. Fortunately, I get the feeling that I could watch this movie with no sound or subtitles and still get a real kick out of watching star Mayu Matsuoka work. She's terrific and a huge part of how Akiko Ohku's movie is not just better than most romantic comedies, but also better at deconstructing the genre and putting it back together than most going that direction.

Matsuoka plays Yoshika Eto, who has a tiny apartment, a job in a toy company's accounting department, and a tendency to stay up late reading Wikipedia articles on extinct animals. She's been nursing a crush on a boy from middle school, Ichi (Takumi Kitamura), for ten years, and is a bit surprised when another employee (Daichi Watanabe) - whom she calls "Ni" for how he scribbles the number two - is smitten and asks her out. She doesn't say no, but she also dives head-first into arranging a reunion with her old classmates to reconnect with Ichi.

There's some wordplay to the names that gets a bit tripped up in the subtitling - Ichi is a fairly common nickname in Japan and also the Japanese word for the number one. Ohku taps into the idea that Yoshika thinks he's "the one" and establishes in the very first scene that Ni is very clearly Yoshika's second choice, but there are moments when the characters seem well-aware that her habit of giving people nicknames is an affectation that doesn't quite fit. It often needs to carry a little more metaphorical heft than it should as a way for her to distance herself and feel like she knows people when she doesn't. It extends into an alias and some social-media considerations, so it's useful, and plays with some interesting ideas, but can be a little much.

That doesn't matter as much, though, because Mayu Matsuoka is well able to carry all the weight Ohku puts on her as Yoshika. She's given a chance to show Yoshkia as a smart, conflicted person right from the start, setting the stage for how she always seems grounded and self-aware despite being neck-deep in a romantic fantasy. Watch how she responds to Ni's initial interest, the right combination of certainty and shyness to look kind of annoyed but also calculating if this particular man is dangerous, not quite losing that as she eventually allows herself to listen. There's not a moment that she's not making her romanticizing heroine interesting, finding the part of a character who could be a bundle of quirk that feels real and genuine and bringing that to the front, even as she's defined by her eccentricity in many ways.

The whole movie does that, actually; it's full of plot turns that could seem outrageous but instead turn out a little sad, but not enough to make the movie sink into melancholy. Ohku has Yoshika do things that could easily cause the audience to turn on her but usually in a moment of well-earned frustration, and it lets her make the whole thing a little larger than life without getting unbelievable enough that a viewer still worries. What could be twists don't wind up that way because, even though the filmmakers are showing the line between imagination and reality or implying that Yoshkia can sometimes be an unreliable narrator, they're not trying to fool the audience. It's communication first, misdirection much further down the list.

But it's also genuinely sweet and funny. Everyone involved has great comic timing and delivery - Daichi Watanabe especially stands out as Ni, a broadly dorky and maybe over-aggressive guy who works as both straight man and weirdo as necessary, while Anna Ishibashi banters well as her co-worker and a full slate of character actors take the parts of cheerful sounding boards, good enough to note their relative absence later. Few of the jokes are meant to be cruel or belittling, so there's not a sense of piling on. Ohku and her crew mix things up enough to make things a bit interesting and unpredictable, with a bit of well-placed effects, excellent sound work, and the rare use of a musical number to push people out of a fantasy rather than pull them in.

As romantic comedies go, it's maybe not exactly mostly funny, but it earns its smiles by the end - a final shot that I kind of love for being sexy, awkward, and well-placed all at once. I hope it leads to more starring roles for Matsuoka, who is terrific from start to finish.

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