うさぎドロップ Sabu (Hiroyuki Tanaka), 2011
As I wrote before, this year’s Japanese Film Festival program boasted an abundance of tear-jerking dramas and love stories. During volunteer shifts I had to opportunity to test the limits of my endurance with several of these films, but Bunny Drop was one I actively went after (as did many: it sold out), for no other reason than it stars Japan’s most famous child actress Mana Ashida. The unbelievably adorable Mana-Chan was all over Japanese TV when I was there this time last year, singing, dancing and charming everyone on variety shows and New Year’s specials. Her acting resume continues to snowball, both on TV and in film, and I was surprised to learn, she actually is a pretty amazing actress.
Adhering to the Japanese Film Industry’s now unshakeable Manga-Anime-Live Action sequence of adaptation, Bunny Drop is about a family who discovers that their recently deceased Grandfather had a six year old daughter that none of them knew about. How they failed to notice this (for six years, at that!) is either a testament to Mana-Chan’s hide-and-seek skills, or more likely, a damning comment on how we should all visit our grandparents more often. Anyway, with the six year-old Rin now fatherless and the mother seemingly out of the picture, thirty year-old, single office worker Daikichi, much to his family’s shock, volunteers somewhat naïvely, to raise his six year-old Aunty.
It’s a pretty conventional story, filled with coming-of-age/suddenly-a-parent/odd-couple plot devices and clichés, but I thought the film was a satisfying little one, thanks mostly due to the main actors, Mana Ashida and Kenichi Matsuyama. They work together very well, but it’s Mana-Chan who steals the show. Her performance, growing from quiet, shy orphan to bright and lively youngster is a strong and quite believable one, which for me, was never too sickly sweet (although I’m sure some would argue against that). The film was however, surprisingly free of conflict. It feels very “Safe” the whole time. It’s made clear that Daikichi makes sacrifices at work, but these don’t seem to affect him negatively at all. In fact, giving up his desk job to work in the shipping warehouse results in him making friends who are more fun and reliable than the suits upstairs. Rin has trouble making friends at kindergarten, but it’s almost an annoying inclusion, as we know that no-one could resist that face for long. And if that wasn’t enough, Daikichi even manages to get reasonably cosy with a young model love interest, without even trying! It’s almost like this movie comes equipped with a free safety net. Sub plots that would normally carry huge weight, including a visit from a Child Welfare worker and the tracking down of Rin’s biological mother are dealt with quickly and without mess, and surprisingly even without tears. The underdone nature of such sub-plots results in an exceedingly linear film with very few peaks and troughs. Rin and Daikichi’s relationship is one of unnaturally constant understanding, with little to no scolding, discipline or even “I’m never speaking to you again!” or “You’re not my real father!” moments, which could easily be expected in this type of film.
While this might all sound like huge criticism, I never actually found myself bored while watching the film. It’s definitely not perfect, it’s not particularly original, and it won’t change your life, but it’s just an easy, nice, heart-warming story. And it is for these reasons which I’m sure just as many people will hate it as those who love it. Maybe I’m just star struck by the pint-sized Mana-Chan, whose screen presence is undeniable, but I still enjoyed this movie and I don’t care who knows it.