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When Koharu (Tao Tsuchiya) gets married to a wealthy doctor only a month after they first meet, it’s like something out of a fairytale — and she seems to have landed herself the wicked stepmother role.

The protagonist of Ryohei Watanabe’s “The Cinderella Addiction” is certainly ready to be swept off her feet when she first meets Daigo (Kei Tanaka). Koharu has just seen her grandfather hospitalized, nearly lost her home in a fire and caught her boyfriend in bed with her coworker, all in the space of a single night.

Sure, she has to rescue her Prince Charming after he collapses in a drunken stupor in front of an oncoming train, but first impressions aren’t everything, right?

The Cinderella Addiction (Aishu Shinderera)
Rating
Run Time 114 mins.
Language Japanese
Opens Feb. 5

She also hits it off with Daigo’s 8-year-old daughter, Hikari (single-named Instagram sensation Coco), which comes as a relief. Koharu’s own mother walked out on the family when she was a similar age, and she’s determined not to repeat history.

However, she’s barely settled in at her new husband’s chic beachside residence before the gothic alarm bells start ringing. What’s with that mysterious locked door? Could her mother-in-law be any more sinister? And why is Hikari suddenly acting up?

Things appear to be heading in a darker direction, as Koharu’s relationship with her stepdaughter grows strained, and her repeated vows not to become a bad mother return to haunt her. But “The Cinderella Addiction” is in much less rush to get anywhere than the film’s marketing campaign, which inexplicably spoils its biggest surprise.

Viewers who’ve seen the trailer are likely to spend much of the first half shifting impatiently, as the tautness of the opening act gives way to a succession of slackly executed scenes. The film’s nearly two-hour runtime could easily have been pruned, yet it still has to make a few hurried leaps in order to get to its finale.

Watanabe’s script won the Grand Prix of the Tsutaya Creators’ Program in 2016, and it’s easy to see why the judges thought it had potential, splicing Tetsuya Nakashima’s “Confessions” (2010) with the kinds of macabre fables that South Korean filmmakers do so well.

Something seems to have been lost in the delivery, though. “The Cinderella Addiction” isn’t quite polished enough to get by on style alone, and its moments of visual panache — including a tribute to old-school Hollywood musicals — are let down by some surprisingly rough patches.

For Tsuchiya, who’s starred in her fair share of conventional romances, it could have been a chance to subvert her image as chillingly as Takako Matsu did in “Confessions.” But that would have taken a more meticulously constructed film than this.

For all the cleverness of Watanabe’s screenplay, with its symmetries and foreshadowing, it’s also shallow, both in its characterizations and its desire to shock the audience.

The climax certainly succeeds on the latter count, but I’m not sure Watanabe really appreciates the gravity of what he’s depicting here. Without giving too much away, the denouement is so out of proportion from what’s come before, it’s hard to see it as anything but gratuitous.

Like the monster parents it depicts, “The Cinderella Addiction” doesn’t know where to draw the line. There’s no frisson or shudder of recognition at the end of this twisted fairytale, just a very nasty aftertaste.

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