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‘Love × Doc’: A rom-com on doctor’s orders

by Mark Schilling

Contributing Writer

When successful Japanese scriptwriters direct films, they tend to try too hard, cramming in characters, gags, plot twists and a blizzard of cuts. Sometimes, the busyness works, as in Koki Mitani’s “Welcome Back, Mr. McDonald,” a 1997 screwball comedy about a chaotic radio broadcast that delivers on its laugh-a-minute promise.

More typical is “Love × Doc,” the first feature directed by Osamu Suzuki, a veteran TV scriptwriter whose rare ventures into films includes the hilarious fantasy/rom-com “The Handsome Suit” (2008). Not that this film about a 40-year-old pastry chef’s romantic misadventures assaults the senses, but it does strain to be a perfect pop cinema confection, like an overloaded tart.

Based on Suzuki’s original script, “Love × Doc” does not sugarcoat the difficulty of finding true love. The heroine, Asuka Goda (Yo Yoshida), jumps headfirst into relationships that to rational observers look like bad ideas. In her cool-headed moments, Asuka knows this, but bad habits die hard.

Love × Doc
Rating
Run Time 113 mins.
Language JAPANESE

But there is also a “just-so” quality to her story, tied in a ribbon with obvious “life lessons,” though the ending, by genre standards, is refreshingly rule-breaking. And the visuals — from the scrumptious shots of pastry-making to the brightly colored goldfish that swim in and out of the frame — are colorful eye candy that offer an ironic counterpoint to the not-always-pretty on-screen action.

As the film begins, Asuka is the hard-working, boyfriend-less owner of her own thriving pastry shop. Then, she realizes that Seiya (Shuhei Nomura), a gorgeous 25-year-old employee, is stuck on her. But as temptation beckons, memories resurface, starting with her affair, at age 36, with her 55-year-old married employer, Awai (Kotaro Yoshida), who promised much, but delivered only pain.

Rather than go down that path again, Asuka answers an ad for the dodgy clinic of a slinky, knowing “love doctor,” Reiko Fuyuki (Ryoko Hirosue). After administering a “genetic examination,” Fuyuki says Asuka is suffering from a severe case of “over-active hormones.” What’s the cure?

Before all that, though, the film takes a deep dive into Asuka’s troubled romantic past. She was, we see, easy prey for a good line, which Awai, that gray-bearded ladies man, certainly had, as well as earnest vows to divorce his wife and set up Asuka with her own shop. But Awai also had an allergy to photos when the two of them were together, a clear sign to even random strangers that they were having an affair.

When it ended, disastrously, Asuka fell under the spell of Nomura (Hiroshi Tamaki), a buff personal trainer who gave fantastic massages. Her best pal, Chigusa (Kayoko Okubo), was also infatuated with the guy, though as a single mom, she rated her chances as low to zero. How could that rivalry end well? Enough to say that it didn’t.

With these bitter experiences behind her and Seiya in front of her, Asuka visits the “love doc” for an injection that will put the brakes on her libido — but not on her heart.

As Asuka, veteran actress Yoshida reminded me of Courteney Cox as the workaholic chef Monica Geller in “Friends”: Living proof that beauty is no barrier to being clumsy — and funny — at love. But Asuka arguably has more talent in the kitchen. Walk in for the laughs, walk out with a raging sweet tooth.