Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

Rina (Keiko Kitagawa) is a seventeen year old bitch.  I mean she’s just awful, having in her possession absolutely no redeeming qualities, other than being cute.  Okay, she’s REALLY cute but still, cuteness can only take you so far.  Our film opens with Rina being awakened by a one of her buddies while she is the sack with her buddies boyfriend.  The girl is all upset, letting Rina know that this is not how friends treat one another, but Rina, in her bitchy best, informs the kid that friends are simply somebody you keep around until the time comes to use them.  Precious this girl.  So Rina is a bit of a tramp, correct?  Well, When Rina meets the hot club D.J. Yosuke (Misawa Kikawada) who is spinning at the disco, Rina, the big time club girl, decides she wants him.  Kind of.  She takes him up to the private room and they make out, and now that he’s all excited she leaves.  So Rina is a tramp AND a tease. I didn't even think that was possible.  Little cute Rina is incredibly disrespectful to her doting mother, abuses and uses her friends, extorts abortion money from former lovers, though she’s not pregnant, and is a chronic school skipper.  Precious this girl.

After Rina collapses doing the electric slide at the disco one night, tests show that Rina has cancer.  Rina as you might imagine doesn’t take this news too terribly well as her bitchiness reaches new levels.  But there is one school girl, Maki (Yuika Motokariya), who comes to visit Rina everyday when she is hospitalized, though Rina has no idea why and she certainly lets Maki know her efforts aren’t appreciated.  Rina also meets a little girl at the hospital who has spent all of her eight years there (I don’t know the name of the young actress who played kid, but she was awesome) as the child has declared Rina her friend.  Sadly Rina gets sicker, her hair falls out, her beauty has withered but her friend Maki has stayed by her side, eventually melting Rina’s heart and causing her to behave like a halfway normal person.  Sadly the angelic Maki, who is the anti-Rina, has been keeping a secret from us.  Will change occur for Rina, chipping away at that rotten layer of bitterness that exists within her, despite the tragedy that surrounds her on all corners?

Chances are you won’t care.  Director Kazuyuki Morosawa has created a character so unlikable and so untenable, that her redemption is almost meaningless.  I’m watching this film with the full knowledge that before the final credits roll that Rina is going grow angel wings, and fully hoping that they’re going to bring me around to actually care about this character, but they couldn’t do it.  When they told young actress Keiko Kitagawa to turn it on, man, she did a great job creating the character of Rina.  Too good a job.  Since they chose to make Rina the way they did, you would hope they would give us a reason how she became this way.  We get a brief flashback as Rina as a child, but she was quite the sweetie pie then, and thus the change that came in her personality remained a mystery.  And since there was no justification for her abhorrent behavior, it became all the more unappealing.  On two separate occasions the character stood on a ledge contemplating suicide, and both times I was thinking she should probably just go ahead and jump.

Because of this ‘Dear Friends’ ultimately doesn’t work for me, but that’s not to say it’s a poor film.  Morosawa definitely is in control of his camera, his images and his actors.  Though the characters are more caricatures than real people, i.e., the spunky kid, the doting mother and so forth, all of the actors did fine work with their respective roles, particularly Misawa Kikawada in a priceless scene where he has tough decision to make in regards to his future relationship with Rina.  The melodrama however was a bit overdone with all of the dying and screaming over the dying, and crying over the dying, and the dying kid and what not.  It appeared the director may have been working a little too hard to wring every single spare tear you had available, and again, if they hadn’t made Rina so much of a monster, they might have succeeded. 

‘Dear Friends’, a story of tragedy and friendship, is ultimately a bit too overwrought and runs a little too long.  I’m telling you if they had just spent a little less time letting us know how horrible a person Rina-chan was and at least blessed her with one decent quality, maybe she cleans her room up every once in a while, the movie just might have worked out to be the massive tear jerker that the filmmakers wanted it to be.

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