Film / Reviews

'The Kodai Family': A daydream believer and her mind-reading prince

by Mark Schilling

Doesn’t everybody want somebody who understands their true inner self? For some, it’s a spouse, for others, a friend; for others still, it’s Mom. Some, however — and not all under the age of 5 — have this meeting of minds and hearts with a figment of their imaginations.

One such person is Kie Hirano (Haruka Ayase), an average OL (“office lady” or female clerk) in a large company and the heroine of Masato Hijikata’s cute, if predictable rom-com “The Kodai Family” (“Kodaike no Hitobito”). An inveterate daydreamer, Kie has tete-a-tetes inside her head with a white-bearded gnome who is always ready with a question or a quip. But he is only one of a cast of characters that populate her woolgatherings that include a portly mustachioed villain who, together with a gang of clones, comically tries to do her in, until she is rescued by a dreamboat with a flesh-and-blood existence in the real world.

Her “hero” is Mitsumasa Kodai (Takumi Saito), a tall, handsome, well-bred scion of the fabulously wealthy Kodai clan, whose recently deceased grandfather founded the company. Known to swooning OLs as the “prince,” he glides through corporate halls like a being apart, with a strained smile on his face. Then, seemingly out of the blue, Mitsumasa begins to woo the tongue-tied, if furiously fantasizing, Kie, responding to her inner doubts and objections as though he were reading her mind.

The Kodai Family (Kodaike no Hitobito)
Rating
Run Time 114 mins
Language Japanese, English
Opens Now showing

Which, it turns out, he is. As Kie gets to know Mitsumasa, his sister Shigeko (Kiko Mizuhara) and his brother Kazumasa (Shotaro Mamiya), she realizes that they are all telepaths who hold sibling conversations without an audible word being exchanged. Mitsumasa, we see, adores her less for her stumbling speech than her pure-spirited thoughts and funny, cartoony daydreams. When he is with her his smile becomes genuine. Puzzled, but thrilled, Kie begins to drop her defenses — and love starts to bloom.

Based on Kozueko Morimoto’s hit girls’ comic, this movie is aimed at shy fantasists everywhere, especially those who have ever aspired to be Cinderella, minus the evil stepmother, plus the dishy prince. Parents can safely see this with their underage daughters as Kie’s fantasies never extend to even the mildly racy and in her real-life encounters with her prince no more than a chaste kiss is ever exchanged.

Watching “The Kodai Family” wend its way to its foregone conclusion — a journey that becomes something of a plod as TV-drama cliches proliferate — I fantasized a more interesting film emerging from its admittedly clever premise. And, no, it was not X-rated.

Once Mitsumasa proposes marriage and Kie accepts, a formidable obstacle to the couple’s happiness arises in the form of Mitsumasa’s imperious mother (Mao Daichi). This bumpkin from the countryside, Mom caustically observes, is totally lacking in upper-class attainments, from horse-backing riding to speaking English. Kie earnestly vows to study, while Mitsumasa stoutly defends her, inspiring Shigeko and Kazumasa to also think of love with “normal” partners — developments that launch by-the-numbers subplots.

As the path to her wedding clears, however, Kie starts to wonder if joining the Kodai clan is a good idea. Having her every thought exposed to Mitsumasa’s loving inspection, she starts to feel, is not only embarrassing, but also oppressive. Her daydream factory shuts down.

One who understands Kie’s dilemma is Mitsumasa’s chipper British grandmother (Charlotte Kate Fox), who passed on her telepathic gift (or curse) to her grandchildren, if not to her good-natured son (Masachika Ichimura). But how can she help her future daughter-in-law from halfway around the world?

The answers the film supplies to this and other plot questions are not surprising, but neither is the ending to “Cinderella” — and who has ever cared? Fairy tale haters, I suppose, of which I am not one. I couldn’t help imagining Mitsumasa finally getting fed up with that gnome, though.