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Japanese film has its own ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ if you know where to look

by Alyssa I. Smith

Staff Writer

“Crazy Rich Asians” made headlines this summer for being the first Hollywood film in a quarter of a century to feature a main cast entirely comprised of actors of Asian heritage. The movie hits Japanese cinemas this weekend, but audiences here are obviously used to all-Asian casts.

A bigger draw may be that the film is just a really good romantic comedy. While romantics overseas may be wishing on a star that the success of “Crazy Rich Asians” — or the Netflix film “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” — might lead to a genuine rom-com boom, doe-eyed fans of the genre in Japan have plenty of films or TV series to revisit for a passion pick-me-up. Star-crossed lovers, disapproving family members, fashionable excess — some things really are universal.

While some critics may point to movies such as Hitoshi One’s “Moteki” (“Love Strikes!,” 2011) or even Shosuke Ono’s “Densha Otoko” (“Train Man,” 2005) for actual laughs, I’d recommend “Hana yori Dango: Final” (“Boys Over Flowers,” 2008) to “Crazy Rich Asians” fans. Based on a TV series that was itself based on a manga, there have been multiple adaptations of the story, including a musical version, a popular South Korean drama and, more recently, a Chinese original series on Netflix titled “Meteor Garden.”

Just like Constance Wu’s character Rachel in “Crazy Rich Asians,” the main protagonist of “Hana yori Dango,” Tsukushi (Mao Inoue), is a perky young woman with a working-class background. They both snag over-privileged — yet devoted — beaus who come from wealthy families. Tsukushi travels to exotic locales, clashes with her fiance’s tough mother and struggles to adjust to the extravagant lifestyle she’s marrying into. There’s even an ostentatious wedding scene, though it’s hard to top the nuptials in “Crazy Rich Asians,” where the bride literally walks on water — that’s a divine level of romance.

Something else I loved about “Crazy Rich Asians” was the fashion. If you like movie stars that look like they’ve stepped off the cover of Vogue Japan, check out Takehiko Shinjo’s “Paradise Kiss” (2011), another glossy manga adaptation. The film is about an apathetic high school student who goes through a Cinderella-style transformation thanks to a group of dedicated designers (and one handsome designer in particular, though I found some of his moves less charming and more problematic — fix your game George!).

Lead character Yukari (Keiko Kitagawa) is not nearly as put-together as Rachel but they share similar moments of triumph. Rachel’s entrance at Singapore’s wedding of the year in a gorgeous designer dress reminded me of Yukari’s culminating strut down a catwalk. In those scenes, both women have found the confidence to show up any potential haters.

There’s already talk of sequels to “Crazy Rich Asians,” but if your heart can’t wait that long, then sate your appetite with a tub of Haagen-Dazs and the kind of romance that Japanese romantics have been eating up for years.