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‘I Want to Eat Your Pancreas’: An eye-catching title doesn’t make up for over-the-top sentimentality

by Matt Schley

Contributing Writer

The most interesting thing about “I Want to Eat Your Pancreas” is its title.

Based on that title, you’d be forgiven for assuming the new anime film, an adaptation of the popular novel (and not to be confused with last year’s live-action version), has something to do with organ-hungry zombies. But “Pancreas” is actually a high school quasi-romance that, depending on your tolerance for melodrama, will either leave you sniffling or wishing some zombies had shown up after all.

The tale begins when the film’s unnamed male protagonist accidentally sneaks a peek at classmate Sakura’s diary and learns she has a pancreatic condition that will soon take her life. Sakura, who has chosen to keep her sickness from her friends, is relieved to have found someone to share her secret with, and decides to make the protagonist her best buddy, whether he likes it or not. Though our listless hero claims not to be interested in other people, he goes along with her plan, if only because it’s the path of least resistance.

I Want to Eat Your Pancreas (Kimi no Suizo o Tabetai)
Rating
Run Time 108 mins.
Language JAPANESE

There’s a bit of wish-fulfillment fantasy going on here: Even if you’re the dullest, most cynical person in class, if you wait long enough, a cute girl will eventually be attracted to you. Right. On top of that, Sakura is so bubbly and sweet, your own pancreas may start producing insulin in response.

In any case, the odd couple spend the next few months checking off Sakura’s bucket list. Conflict arises as Sakura’s friends, unaware of her condition, can’t fathom why she’s hanging out with this guy. Meanwhile, the two have several will-they-won’t-they moments as the male protagonist begins to grow as a person.

Taken on their own, several of these “bucket list” scenes are interesting, but they don’t really coalesce — just when you think an episode has moved the story forward, the situation reverts and the same plot points are trodden over again. This pace may come from an interest in maintaining fidelity to the original material, which has many fans, but it gives the film an episodic structure more suited to television.

One of the themes that runs through “Pancreas” is that the people we become and the connections we make aren’t the result of fate or fluke, but the thousands of choices, large and small, we make going through life. It’s a nice sentiment, and proof “Pancreas” isn’t just empty melodramatic calories. There’s a thoughtful film in here somewhere.

But first-time director Shinichiro Ushijima doesn’t reveal this message through anything resembling nuance — it’s pounded into us repeatedly through on-the-nose dialogue (since when did any high school student eloquently express exactly what they’re feeling?), narration and swelling music that practically says, “Hey, this is the part where you’re supposed to cry.”

On the one hand, I recognize I’m at least a decade too old to be in the target demographic for “Pancreas.” But I honestly don’t believe young people are any less weary of melodrama and cliche than cranky film critics.

It is possible to live without a pancreas, though doing so requires regular insulin shots and other careful lifestyle adjustments. Living without “I Want to Eat Your Pancreas,” on the other hand, will likely produce no harmful side effects.