Last year veteran director Akiko Ohku had a breakthrough hit with “Tremble All You Want,” a romantic com edy about a 24-year-old office clerk still obsessed with her girlhood crush but yet to have an actual boyfriend. Played with discombobulated verve by Mayu Matsuoka, this loser-at-love won audience hearts, while making Matsuoka the local industry’s “it girl.”
Now Ohku is back with “Marriage Hunting Beauty,” a rom-com based on Arako Toaru’s manga of the same Japanese title. Once again the heroine is looking for love in the wrong places — namely married guys slow to reveal the wife waiting at home. And once again she is a klutz at romance, if not to the same nerdy extent as Matsuoka’s clerk. She even has a good buddy in the married Keiko (Asami Usuda), essentially the same character as the understanding office colleague played by Anna Ishibashi in “Tremble All You Want.”
What the film doesn’t have, however, is a similarly quirky, relatable protagonist. The heroine, Takako (Mei Kurokawa), has what might called a problem of privilege: a conflicted relationship with her own gorgeousness.
|Rating||out of 5|
|Run Time||89 mins.|
She is also feeling down after a string of affairs that have left her, in her early 30s, alone and all-too aware of time’s ticking clock. She confesses to Keiko that she wants to get married, the sooner the better. Joining a matchmaking site for marriage-minded singles, she is immediately deluged with messages from middle-aged men.
Instead of hitting the delete button, she arranges to meet these guys in a tired “dates from hell” sequence that feels less written than recycled. And since Takako is as beautiful as advertised, her willingness to date just about anything in pants feels strange (though it may encourage certain male viewers hoping to land a “10” when they are themselves, at best, a “2”). It also makes Takako seem less a charmingly deluded romantic like Matsuoka’s clerk than a boringly conventional type ready to settle.
The first date from the site she feels halfway compatible with is Sonogi (Tomoya Nakamura), who is cute and nice but also a dweeb who apologizes for his very existence. Almost the first words out of his mouth are “I’ve never walked with such a beauty.” Behind Takako’s forced smile we can hear her inner groan.
Then there is Yatabe (Kei Tanaka), a dentist who is suave, sexy and up-front about his reluctance to marry. In other words, a strong candidate for a fling, but a bad bet as husband material.
If Takako were a values-free cynic she would lead the devoted but sexless Sonogi to the altar while enjoying the attentions of the roguish Yatabe on the side. But instead she is in a muddle about what she really wants. Meanwhile, the bitterly experienced Keiko is warning her she has no idea what married life is really like.
The film’s fundamental problem is that neither Takako nor her muddle is particularly interesting. It’s somewhat like watching a wealthy heiress torn between investing in a safe-but-dull mutual fund or an exciting-but-risky start-up. To be fair, Takako’s solution to her dilemma feels right and comes as something of a surprise. But it’s also, in hindsight, obvious.
Sometimes hunters, even well-armed ones, need the help of Lady Luck. And she never works on the clock.