Itō-kun A to E: the Movie (a.k.a. “The Many Faces of Itō: the Movie”)

A little over three weeks ago, I finally realised that Netflix had been airing “Itō -kun A to E: the Movie”, under the English title “The Many Faces of Itō”. Just to see that movie, on the same night I finally renewed my Netflix membership. I’m glad I did. Itō was emotionally hurt several times despite being a jerk. I am amazed that such a shallow character became deeper in the hands of Okada Masaki. Although Itō is definitely not my favourite character amongst the many characters Masaki has played so far, I’m glad he took that role, because Itō – despite being a hopeless character – does extend his portfolio.

I have to say that Itō Seijiro is a weird guy. He definitely thinks too highly of himself, yet he is also a totally insecure person. Itō is also a wishy-washy man. He didn’t want to sleep with A (Shimabara Tomomi, Nozomi Sasaki’s character) because he valued his love to B (Nose Shuko, Shida Mirai), yet he kept sending mixed signals to A that made her clinging on to her hopeless dreams. Ito stalked B to her house, but was offended when B eventually told him off. He then courted his college junior C (Jinbo Miki, Kaho), but when he, to his surprise, learned from D (Satoko Aida, Ikeda Elaiza) that he would be C’s “first boyfriend”, he backed off and slept with (or rather, had sex with) D instead.

Did I say Itō was a wishy-washy man? He is. He originally asked A for money, but later when A shoved the money down his throat, he refused it, stating that he finally realised he had to work on his own values first. Itō, I’m very sure you asked her to lend him some money. Or should I re-watch that scene again, for the third time, hmm?

Itō is a total mess who looks for any safe haven to rescue him from himself, but once he finds that safe haven, he self-sabotages himself. He backs off from the good deal. He could have just woken up and realised how good A was to him (too good actually), but he didn’t. He could have dated the totally kind and normal woman C, but he backed off again. He slept with D (C’s best friend, no less!) instead. When Itō called D to say he was ending his “non-relationship” with C (because he found D to be an amazing lover), and D (out of her wracking guilt) berated him for being a 28 years old virgin, and that he always ran away from love and never loved someone as sincere as Miki, he was stunned, blinked back his tears several times, lips quivering before he decided to call Miki to have her again.

Itō Seijiro is a totally insecure man who is afraid of love, because he is too scared to get hurt. Yet… on impulse he helped a person collecting his scattered flyers and was rather stunned when that person said that he, Itō, was a good man.

Perhaps within him, Itō is indeed a good man. At least he has that potential. He did indeed try to be faithful to B, so to speak (before wreaking havoc at C and D after B rejected him!). But at the moment, even at the end of the movie, Itō is a total wreck with a pretty façade (and a really bad fashion taste). And Okada Masaki performed him very well.

I love the way Okada Masaki portrayed Itō’s various emotions. Masaki dived into Itō's fears and explained logically (according to Itō's logic, at least) why Itō was like that. Oh yeah, there are so many annoying parts of Itō, but when he was stunned or hurt, his reactions were amazing to see. Itō was offended when B rejected him, and he was definitely confused and conflicted when he realised he didn’t know how to bed Miki (that was actually a very funny scene). Itō was definitely hurt when Aida insulted him and yelled that he was stupid for letting Miki go. As Aida rebuked him, Itō was stunned like being slapped on the face. Then after Aida hung up, Itō actually cried for about a minute, mouth quivering, before wiping out his tears and called Miki for a reconciliation. Such was Itō’s fear of being alone and for being rejected that he kept floating from here to there, like a lost kite.

In that sense, Itō is a man that many girls know well in our previous lives.  The gorgeous cute bad boy whose affection we desperately tried to win before we realised we deserved better? Yep, that’s him.

Yep, the cute jerk that was too scared to try!

In that regard, Itō is the loser in the story. The winner is the five ladies, particularly Kimura Fumino’s Yazaki Rio. I’ve never seen Fumino’s work before, but I’m amazed at how she portrayed the pretentious Rio juxtaposed with her younger, doe-eyed self during flashback scenes. When script-writer Kuzuken rebuked Rio for her pathetic approach to win back the TV industry’s favour (by blocking Itō’s proposal), Rio eventually cried, and a very pitiful cry at that.  I agree with ARJ that Kimura Fumino gave the best performance in this movie through her Yazaki Rio.

I don’t think that Masaki was under-performing, though. I think he did the best with the script and time he was given. With a running time of 2 hours 6 min and six main characters (Itō and the five ladies), not to mention two supporting male characters, there’s not much room for character development. The movie should have been an SP instead as the follow up of the dorama series… or the movie should have been extended for another 10-15 min to explore Itō’s back story.

But we don’t have that back story. What we have are scenes of Itō genuinely getting hurt and then busily protecting himself from being hurt. We also have this final confrontation between Rio and Itō, whereby the latter explained why he preferred not to fight, because it hurts to get criticised, because even the possibility of failure hurts (he even didn’t finish his proposal because he didn’t want to get criticised. In another word, he’s scared of mere feedback). Then Rio, the fallen heroine emerged back, fighting back, saying that that was not the life she wanted for herself. Thus, despite the criticism, despite the possible failure, she would keep writing.

And thus, she re-emerged as the heroine.

And I have to concede: despite my love to Masaki, Itō is definitely not the hero here. Itō remains Itō, the coward who pretends to be the champion of the weak, but in reality, he’s just too afraid to try. At least Miyamoto Takayoshi ( 宮本隆良, Masaki’s anti-capitalist, rebellious character in Nanimono 何者 2016) finally reconsidered joining the work force at the end despite his earlier rants against capitalism. At least Takayoshi was willing to try doing something, even though he might not like that choice at the end. Itō is different. Itō is still a loser at the end, exactly because he is too afraid to try.

Mind you… Okada Masaki playing Itō does not reduce my respect to him as an actor here. Rather, I admire him more because he is willing to try out a role that is – truly in every sense – helpless. Itō is not Nijimura Keichō who became evil (a driven man, or a man with "his own conviction" in Masaki’s words) because he wanted to end his father’s misery. Itō is neither Miyamoto Takayoshi who didn't want to join the work force because of his cynical view of capitalism and neoliberalism. The Itō we know is just a normal man who should and could have done better. This role can be more difficult to portray than the likes of Keichō, thus understandably Masaki spent a lot of time prepping for Itō. That is a hat off for him.

In essence, my main criticism for this movie is because I want to see Itō’s story better explored. We have seen Masaki portraying Itō as not just an annoying man, but as an annoying man who is so afraid of getting hurt, he ends up hurting people to protect himself. That is good! But I also want to know WHY Itō is like that. What happened in his past that made him cowering under the pretence of heroic avoidance? Is he simply a spoiled brat? Is he a spoiled brat who failed to impress his parents, hence he doesn’t want to try anymore? Is there a deeper reason than that?

Itō’s pathetic (or perhaps pitiful) story aside, I wonder if viewers who have not seen the drama series find the movie engaging, or confusing. The drama series was a very good format to introduce the characters, IMO, and to build up their conflicts. I’m not convinced the movie format is suitable for new viewers. I cannot say this for sure because I watched the drama before I watched the movie… but I enjoy the drama series better than the movie from the viewpoint of story development.

And perhaps, that’s where the problem is, IMO. We have two episodes each for A, B, C and D in the dorama… and within those episodes, the story of Yazaki Rio. But we have very little room to develop Itō’s story. True, the title “The Many Faces of Itō” fits because we see his faces through these women. But we rarely see his true “face” from his own perspective, other than the final confrontation with Rio, and also through his interactions with the other women.

I suppose, that is my main point: this movie should have explored Itō’s story better. He does not have to change for the better in the end, but we readers (or viewers) need to know WHY he is like that. We are barely given that reason, and that’s my main problem with this movie.

Other than this 3-pages rant, I love the acting of everyone in the movie. I definitely love Fumino’s acting here.  She was despicable in her pursuit of a new project at the expense of mocking the four ladies’ sad stories. The four ladies A to D were also excellent. Nozomi’s doe-eyed disappointment when she realised Itō was a total jerk was definitely heart-felt, because I have been there too. I have been there to realise that the men I loved were not good enough for me. Kaho’s fidgeting when she knew Itō was coming was sad, and charming at the same time. I hated Ikeda Elaiza’s Satoko Aida until she crumbled in tears outside the hotel where she had sex with Itō. I felt for her and her sleepless eyes as she struggled to meet Miki's offer of renewed friendship. The only character I don’t really relate with is Shida Mirai’s Nose Shuko. I think perhaps because her passionless character just lost her charm on me. I like Maki (Shuko’s roommate, played by Yamashita Rio) better, actually, particularly in the dorama part. The two gents, Tanaka Kei (Tamura) and Nakamura Tomoya managed not to be just accessories in this movie and drama, though I gravitate towards Nakamura’s Kuzuken more. I guess it’s because I don’t get why Tamura slept with Yazaki Rio yet decided to marry another girl, while Kuzuken was just a good boy trying to protect the girl he loved.

By the way, I finally understood why Yazaki Rio felt the need to tape her bath tub. This Reddit post explained how taking a bath was very ingrained in the Japanese culture as a symbol to relax. By taping it off, Rio showed she meant business, she wouldn’t rest until she became successful.

To conclude: Do I want to watch Itō-kun again? Yes, I do, but mainly to see Itō’s conflicting moments (not when he was feeling pompous about himself) and to see Rio re-emerging as a determined girl in the end. But the movie still leaves me wanting for more explanation, and I have a sneaky feeling I won’t get that at all.

PS: Thanks a lot ARJ for the discussion!

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