Film / Reviews

‘You Are the Apple of My Eye’: A missed chance at romance isn’t a bad thing

by Mark Schilling

Contributing Writer

“You Are the Apple of My Eye,” a teen romance by writer and director Giddens Ko in 2011, became a hit not only in his native Taiwan but across Asia. Seeing it at the Udine Far East Film Festival, I was struck by the raunchiness of the humor, starting with a classroom masturbation contest, and the originality of the story, which was based on Ko’s semi-autobiographical novel about his long, on-again/off-again relationship with a cute, hard-working high school classmate. “Only in Taiwan,” I thought.

Not really. There is now a Japanese remake, directed by Yasuo Hasegawa, that closely follows the original. The gags remain low-brow, though the masturbation scene got the heave-ho. And the film still opens with the classmate marrying another guy, as the hero and his buddies, guests at her wedding, look on with resignation.

This gives the rest of the story a bittersweet air, like starting a medical melodrama with the hero on his deathbed, reminiscing about happier days. And yet the film ends on a raucous up-note, proclaiming what most of us already know: The end of romance can be the beginning of friendship — and maturity.

You Are the Apple of My Eye (Ano Koro, Kimi o Oikaketa)
Rating
Run Time 114 mins.
Language JAPANESE

The hero is Kosuke Mizushima (Yuki Yamada), a third-year high school student whose parents run a tofu shop in a small provincial town. Curly-haired and good-looking, he hangs out with the porky Kazuki (Ryosuke Yusa), athletic Kento (Naoki Kunishima), studious Yohei (Takara Sakumoto) and socially awkward Junon (Keisuke Nakata), who gets an erection every time an attractive girl glances in his direction.

All but one of these guys is besotted by Mana Hayase (Asuka Saito), a straight-arrow, straight-A student who is also the class beauty. The naysayer is Kosuke, who considers Miss Perfect a drag, though he has long been buddies with her best friend, Utako (Honoka Matsumoto).

Then his strict English teacher makes him sit in front of Mana to separate him from his misbehaving pals. Soon after, Mana is about to catch a scolding from the teacher for forgetting her textbook when Kosuke surreptitiously hands her his — and stoically endures a tongue-lashing in her place.

From this incident a testy friendship blooms, as an all-business Mana urges Kosuke to hit the books (and pricks him in the back with her pen when he balks). Reluctantly, Kosuke studies after class with Mana when he would rather be goofing off — or napping. (A running gag is the sight of Kosuke slumped unconscious at his desk.)

Something slowly develops from this constant proximity that approximates love, a feeling that paradoxically strengthens when they go their separate ways after graduation. But Kosuke is still a kid in the eyes of Mana, a grown-up since birth.

He tries to prove his manhood to her in an idiotic stunt seemingly inspired by “Fight Club,” but for all its manga-esque humor, the story of this oil-and-water romance has a true-to-life feel. Also, it becomes more than the sum of its episodes, since Kosuke and his pals change — if not completely grow up — in its 10-year time frame.

Most of all, Kosuke and Mana’s rocky relationship has a genuine internal logic of its own, though it violates a cardinal genre rule: Opposites may quarrel, but love conquers all.

In “You Are the Apple of My Eye” it’s the baked-in values that finally count more.