Film / Reviews

‘Sunny’: The gang reunites for some 1990s nostalgia

by Mark Schilling

Contributing Writer

Compared to today’s Tokyo, where teenagers quietly curate their Instagram feeds in Starbucks and tourists happily snap selfies from the middle of Shibuya Crossing, the 1990s were a wilder, freer time.

Shibuya was then the domain of the kogyaru, teenage girls who cheekily flouted traditional norms in everything from the white “loose” socks that clumped around their ankles to enjo kōsai, compensated dates with randy guys old enough to be their fathers. And then there were the ganguro — young women who took the kogyaru look, including dyed hair and sprayed-on tans, to bizarre extremes. Ridiculed as aliens from another planet, they waved their freak flags high.

Sunny (Tsuyoi Kimochi Tsuyoi Ai)
Rating
Run Time 118 mins
Language JAPANESE

“Sunny,” Hitoshi One’s exuberant, if repetitive, remake of a 2011 Korean film of the same title, celebrates the late ’90s in Tokyo from the perspective of six women who were once a kogyaru posse. Though intended as generational nostalgia, it also shows the darker side of the era, without framing its young heroines as passive victims, and is full of infectious energy, meticulous period detail and laugh-out-loud gags — all trademarks of director One, who made his box-office breakthrough, the hit rom-com “Love Strikes!,” in 2011.

But One, who also wrote the script, overdoes scenes of one heroine leaping to the defense of another against the bullying from a rival kogyaru gang. (The gang’s obnoxious leader gets her comeuppance so often and so thoroughly that I began to sympathize with her.) And his heroines, in both the past and present incarnations, cry torrents of tears so regularly I began to imagine flood warnings.

They also charm with a vitality that’s harder to find these days. At the center of this maelstrom is Nami (Ryoko Shinohara), a sweet-tempered housewife who self-sacrificingly cares for an often-absent (if high-earning) husband and snotty teenage daughter. Then a chance encounter with Serika (Yuka Itaya), the former leader of her kogyaru posse, brings back long-suppressed memories.

A successful single businesswoman, Serika has led the sort of unfettered life the more conventional Nami can only envy, until she reveals she has terminal cancer, with only a month to live. Her request to her old pal: Round up the other four members of their crew, which they dubbed “Sunny,” for a first-and-final reunion. Nami tearfully agrees and, helped by a dodgy private detective (Lily Franky), tracks down three: The feisty, plus-sized Ume (Naomi Watanabe), the potty-mouthed, (artificially) voluptuous Yuko (Eiko Koike) and the abused, alcoholic Shin (Rie Tomosaka). Absent is Nana (Elaiza Ikeda), a cool-tempered beauty in her youth, who long ago went missing.

Running on a parallel track is the tale of Sunny in their teenage prime, centering again on Nami (Suzu Hirose), who begins as a naive, gawky transfer student to a Tokyo all-girls high school from Awaji Island in Hyogo Prefecture, which to her new classmates might as well be Arkansas. But the tough-talking, kind-hearted Serika takes Nami under her wing, much as she might a helpless chick.

Where the present-day story tends to the mawkish, the ’90s story is raucously true to the ways of teenage girls, kogyaru divisions, good, bad and ridiculous. Special kudos to Hirose, whose Nami is an inspired comic creation, incurably innocent and goofy. And when she cries, she earns your tears.