Film / Reviews

'He Won't Kill, She Won't Die': Dark, but just not quite dark enough

by Mark Schilling

Contributing Writer

Some movie trailers are essentially 30-second spoiler compilations, though you may not realize it until after you’ve seen the film. But “He Won’t Kill, She Won’t Die,” Keiichi Kobayashi’s quirky romantic drama, seems to contain its spoilers in the very title. It’s somewhat like retitling “Psycho” as “She Will Die in the Shower, He Will Go Stark Raving Mad.”

But, based on a four-frame manga by the single-named Seikimatsu, the film is about more than the eventual fates of its two young protagonists, the icy cool Rei Kosaka (Shotaro Mamiya) and the death-obsessed Nana Shikano (Hinako Sakurai). Instead, it’s more of an extended meditation on the vagaries of adolescent love, with Kobayashi, who also wrote the script, striving mightily to flesh out the characters from the manga’s narrow confines.

Even so, everyone speaks in pithy phrases that range from insults (“Why don’t you die?”) to poetic apercus, while behaving like teen stereotypes (cutie with self-esteem issues, smarty with a steel-trap brain) from many a local comic and film. The effect is somewhat like consuming the manga in one long sitting.

He Won't Kill, She Won't Die (Korosanai Kare to Shinanai Kanojo)
Rating
Run Time 123 mins.
Language JAPANESE
Opens NOV. 15

For this non-fan of the comic, the effect was similar to dining on appetizers, with one bite-sized scene blurring into the next. By the time the story developed into something more substantial, I was stuffed, if not blanked from sensory overload. Thankfully, the film’s spicy insights into its characters’ psyches somewhat offset the blandness of the predictable plot turns.

Our first encounter with Nana is memorable enough: We see her taking a dead bee out of a wastebasket, where it has been deposited by a classmate, and carrying it through the halls for a proper burial outside. Observing her in the act, Rei quizzes her about her reasons and learns that she is less an insect lover than a depressed soul who has flirted with suicide by cutting her wrists.

Outwardly cynical and callous, Rei sees in Nana a fellow outsider and takes a romantic interest in her, though he is slow to show it. Meanwhile, Nana begins to find in the tall, good-looking, sympathetic Rei something more than a willing ear.

Meanwhile, classmate Kyapiko (Mayu Hotta) plays cute and dumb to attract guys and, once they are enraptured, dumps them. She says she doesn’t want to be hurt by being dumped first.

Her best (and only) pal, the bespectacled Jimiko (Yuri Tsunematsu), is also her polar opposite: Nerdy and perceptive, Jimiko sees through Kyapiko’s phony poses and self-serving actions to the sweet, insecure girl underneath.

Finally there is Nadeshiko (Yumena Yanai), a big, full-of-beans girl who is head-over-heels for the short, brainy Yachiyo (the single-named Yutaro), though her confessions of love are met by a stone wall of smiling indifference.

All the while lurking in the background is a knife-wielding, white-clad serial killer (Masaki Nakao) who puts videos of his murders online.

These stories develop and intersect in ways that will surprise no one who has seen a rom-com, especially of the “opposites attract” variety. Also, the serial killer is an all-too-obvious device to jar the action out of its talky gag-manga groove. And where the other characters have a one-of-a-kind credibility the killer is a standard-brand cartoon. Teenage angst, this film gets right; homicidal mania, not so much.