Love Strikes! (Moteki)

Japan (2011) Dir. Hitoshi Ohne

Yukiyo Fujimoto (Mirai Moriyama) is a 31 year-old virgin, his life is going nowhere and is desperate for love. He starts working as a writer for a news site although his colleagues all tease Yukiyo for his involuntary celibacy. While wallowing in self pity via his Twitter account he attracts the attention of a fellow user with whom he strikes up a friendship and they arrange to meet. Instead of the expected male showing up, it transpires the flirty and exuberant Miyuki (Masami Nagasawa) is his online friend. They hit it off and despite chances of a physical consummation unlikely Yukiyo falls for Miyuki, who has a boyfriend, music promoter Daisuke (Nobuaki Kaneko).

But then, Yukiyo’s “moteki” – a period of extreme popularity with the opposite sex – kicks in and via Miyuki, Yukiyo meets shy singleton Rumiko (Kumiko Aso) who falls for Yukiyo through their love of solitary karaoke sessions and seems to have impressed ditzy bar hostess Ai (Riisa Naka) although Miyuki is still first on Yukiyo’s mind.

Originally a popular manga Moteki first got the live action treatment in a 2010 TV drama, also starring Mirai Moriyama as Yukiyo, before this film version arrived in late 2011 with a slightly different plotline and new cast of characters.

Yukiyo is an awkward, skinny and young looking 31 year-old whose nerdy appearance makes him a believable protagonist as a loveless loser but not so as a chick magnet. Belittled by his colleagues, including his lothario boss (Takuya Sumida) and feisty female manager Moyoko (Yoko Maki,) Yukiyo’s self worth is at rock bottom until he meets Miyuki and even if their sleeping together did literally involve a night of alcohol induced slumber, Yukiyo believes he has hit the target; sadly his inexperience with women and the revelations of Miyuki’s relationship with Daisuke makes it harder for him to confess his feelings.

The arrival on the scene of Rumiko changes everything for Yukiyo but not as you may think while the one night stand with tarty looking, philosophy dispensing barmaid Ai brings another surprise for Yukiyo. However the spectre of Miyuki looms heavy over each of Yukiyo’s female dalliances but it seems that the situation has its own complications for Miyuki too.

Putting aside the somewhat credibility stretching idea that a nerd such a Yukiyo could attract the cuties that he does, we have a tale that explores what happens when someone gets what they wish for but how too much of that good thing produces an emotion overload. Yukiyo though is not like a kid in a sweet shop and is more perplexed and bewildered than anything when his luck with the ladies changes. What is a nice touch is that we are spared the predictable development of Yukiyo undergoing a personality change to an arrogant playboy overflowing with false confidence; instead Yukiyo indulges each situation as it comes but is still stuck with his feelings for Miyuki, the unattainable prize which distracts him from realising what he has in front of him.

A smart twist sees Rumiko ipouring out her heart to Yukiyo and he can’t see that her near pathetic desperation for Yukiyo’s attention mirrors his own for Miyuki, turning him into a jerk of a different kind. This incisive exploration of the complexities of human emotions threatens to become overwrought with mawkish sentimentality but saves itself from such ignominy by being a simply tragic display of our selfish obliviousness.

Director Hitoshi Ohne deceives the viewer with a manic and extrovert opening gambit which is rife with silliness and comic irreverence to suggest this is a watching-through-the-fingers sex comedy – by the second act however we enter into a romantic drama before a melodramatic finale. Mirai Moriyama is entrusted with carrying the film which he does so with aplomb while his female counterparts dip in and out of the picture when necessary, although there is never a doubt that Miyuki is the key focus for Yukiyo. Masami Nagasawa as the unattainable Miyuki is a little too cute to be the good time girl but brings a touch of humanity to what should be an unsympathetic character.

Of the other two conquests, Riisa Naka is only present for a little while and seems desperate to graduate from her usual roles as the plucky schoolgirl (see Time Traveller, Café Isoba or Halfway for evidence) by dressing up provocatively with her cleavage on show and caked in make up – until the morning after when we see why she is still cast as a schoolgirl. Kumio Aso never seems to age, looking ten years younger than Rumiko’s supposed 33 years. Aso normally known for quirky comic roles, is tasked with giving such a desperately lonely woman a sense of dignity, sometimes with a touch of pathos but she delivers here almost too convincingly.

One could also be forgiven for thinking that this is a promotional exercise for the Japanese pop music industry as the film is littered with songs and performances from artists big and new, some even comes with on-screen name checks and lyrics – most of which relate to the milestone moments of the story. With the backdrop of Yukiyo being sent to cover music festivals, many of the acts are seen in situ on stage, making their appearances coincidentally congruent. The only act to buck this trend is disco pop trio Perfume who perform their song and dance routine in the middle of a park with bonus member Yukiyo!

Moteki offers us a unique look at Japanese social structure and how whatever the cultural differences, certain things in life are universal. Perhaps the concept is a little far fetched but the handing of the message and the repercussions of the characters actions is astute and intriguing. Just be warned that it’s more drama than comedy and its a more palatable viewing experience.


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