Schoolgirl Complex

January 17, 2014

Surprising, but ultimately disappointing photo book adaptation.

Schoolgirl Complex: Hôsôbu-hen (2013)

Yuki Aoyama’s hugely popular Schoolgirl Complex photo book has finally been turned into a movie. There is both irony and admiration to director Yuichi Onuma’s take on the franchise, which somewhat turns the material upside down.

Unlike Aoyama’s book, which drooled all over high school girls in expertly framed photos that never revealed their faces, Onuma goes for a realistic coming-of-age drama where his protagonists look more real, perhaps less beautiful, than the actresses playing them normally do. It is quite ironic that this appears in a Schoolgirl Complex adaptation, while any average Japanese youth film would draw a more romanticized / fetishized image of high schoolgirls. Opening credits aside Onuma’s camera focus, too, is on the girls’ faces rather than on their bodies or uniforms.

Unfortunately the film never manages to dig that deep into its characters, despite solid acting by Mugi Kadowaki and Aoi Morikawa. Onuma takes a no-hurry approach to his love triangle set in an all girls’ high school, but comes out with little psychological depth. A quiet girl secretly in love with a classmate, who in turn receives little response from the class’s newcomer she has a crush on, is hardly an original character set up either.

One problem is also the film’s rough low-budget looks. With all the blown out whites and exceedingly digital looking images the film is hardly a pleasure to the eye. Perhaps, with more appealing visuals and more captivating camerawork the film’s character focus would also reveal more depth.

All complaints aside, Schoolgirl Complex is not actually a bad movie. It is, in fact, a somewhat functional character drama with some good acting. It also lacks the flashiness and silly melodrama found in most high school films. At the same time, however, it feels like a missed opportunity on several fronts. Those who saw Onuma’s earlier work Nude (2010) – an interesting take on AV industry – no doubt expected more from the promising director.


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