100 Yen Love
百円の恋 「Hyaku-en no Koi」
Running Time: 113 mins.
Release Date: December 20th, 2014
Director: Masaharu Take
Writer: Masaharu Take (Screenplay),
Starring: Sakura Ando, Hirofumi Arai, Miyoko Inagawa, Saori, Shohei Uno, Tadashi Sakata, Yuki Okita,
The sports film is a popular genre because most of us participate or are interested in sports. It is also popular because sport offers an arc of development for the main protagonist who journeys from the bottom to the top through training, usually for a make-or-break final match. 100 Yen Love works with this formula and in a year when boxing films have made a comeback with Southpaw (2015) and Creed (2015), it proves to be a strong and distinctive drama thanks to a terrific performance from leading lady Sakura Ando as Ichiko, a girl who goes from zero to not quite hero but is inspirational nonetheless.
What makes Ichiko inspirational?
Our first sight of Ichiko (Sakura Ando) is a slobby 32-year-old (almost) hikikomori sponging off her parents. She lives a messy lifestyle of fast food and video games but all of that is infringed upon when her recently divorced younger sister moves back into the family home with her son. Ichiko’s bad attitude creates tensions with her sister and nephew until the two women fight which makes Ichiko move out and find a place of her own.
With rent to pay and little work experience she is reduced to finding a job at a 100 Yen shop where she works the night shift with a bunch of losers, leches, and lunatics. It is here she keeps encountering a middle-aged boxer named Yuji Kano (Hirofumi Arai) who puts the other men Ichiko knows in the shade with his physicality.
Ichiko is enthralled with him and whenever she passes the local boxing gym she watches Yuji practice. He may not be a good boxer in reality but he is interested in her and it isn’t long before the pair dating. Alas, their relationship is rocky and worse is in store for Ichiko as others in her life take advantage of her. Ichiko will have to overcome the negativity of those sharing her life as well as her own low self-esteem which makes her value herself at 100 Yen. Boxing might just be the ticket to becoming a champion.
As far as boxing films go the story comes off as rather unambitious, a little love story with no major millionaire making title fight at the end, but director/writer Masaharu Date aims to deglamourise the film clichés, turning the story from a potential pugilistic pot-boiler into a very Japanese character study which presents a pretty frank picture of how people devalue themselves and the poor treatment women may get from others.
100 Yen Love is Ichiko’s story and it is a chance for lead actor Sakura Ando to showcase her talents as an actor in total control of her body and mind. Many viewers will be familiar with Ando from her performance as psychotic and highly charismatic cute cult leader in Love Exposure (2009) but here, when we first see Ichiko we see a belligerent slob going nowhere fast. It is easy to be dismissive of her due to the way she treats herself and others with a passive-aggressive manner, barely smiling, and always on the verge of snapping back angrily at others interactions. Ando’s physicality channels inner lassitude and ire as she walks around with a permanent slouch, moving around jerkily less with clear direction and more like being lost in a fog of sheer resentment for the world.
As tempting as it is to write off the character it is a mistake to see Ichiko as a bad person and Ando’s superior acting reveals Ichiko’s weaknesses.
We follow Ichiko as she ventures outside of her comfort zone, gets a job and a boyfriend, and she reveals herself to be embarrassingly and touchingly naïve and hopeful in embarking in what are clearly foreign things for her. She lets others take advantage of her and puts up with foul co-workers. The men are downright awful and one has a mean case of malignant narcissism and evil intentions. A horrific rape scene transpires where she pleads with her attacker about how inexperienced she is. If work sucks, her love life is pretty rotten. She desperately tries to placate Yuji, who is himself a resentful and immature character fading into mediocrity at boxing. He makes horrid comments to keep Ichiko on edge because he doesn’t respect her and proves to be a faithless at times. Ando’s acting exposes how fragile Ichiko actually is after all of the hostility demonstrated and serves as a crucial thread for us to follow as she transforms from that early expressive and surly person emanating negative energy, to uncertainty with her caged body language and submissive looks. She ably reveals a devastatingly awful truth: she is desperate to please and willing to put up with anything and the men in her life are willing to pile on a whole load of awfulness onto her. It is a terrible combination and one that is unsustainable.
At the midway point in the film we have seen a parade of scenes of degradation leavened with dabs of dubious humour but the rot of self-hatred has long been there and the backstory has been perfectly shown. We saw it in the early scenes with her family and the inner angst of the character that Ando’s body language translates for the screen. Despite being in her thirties Ichiko is like a hormonal teenager, a person who stopped growing and thanks to her increasingly awful demeanour, alienated those around her and thus became alienated from others making her bad manners worse. A vicious cycle grew and soon Ichiko’s sense of worthlessness became ingrained as rejection and resentment built.
Everything is presented in a semi-serious manner with black humour and Ando’s acting making things bearable, funny at points. More importantly, all of this leads organically into Ichiko taking up boxing to better herself: her bad past, lack of direction in life and a combination of incidents we have seen has led to an overwhelming sense of frustration which has made her commit to the sport which offered her direction and focus, people who are willing to support her and help her discover her true potential and reach it when those in her past would abandon her. It is a genius lay up for the film to knock the story out of the park with a combination of montages done to upbeat music as Ichiko trains like a woman determined to win at all costs. Her goal? Prove herself to others, overturn all of the horrid things that she has experienced, and most importantly, prove to herself that she can be better.
Again, Ando transforms magically before our eyes from the hostile but timid overweight and ungainly girl at the start to a sleek and gamine lady, toned and tough, hair cut short. Her movements become much more focussed and direct, her attitude opens up and she has an energy that is infectious. We watch her train hard and get involved in the process, willing her to be better. The results are almost immediate. She scares those men who used her and provides support to others. The confidence, competence, and competition are dazzling and a joy to behold after seeing all of her uncertainty and self hate.
What some may not realise until the final fight is that Ichiko is a girl who lacks encouragement. At some point before we meet her she has lost hope and others lost interest in her unless it was for cheap thrills. She has had enough. Ichiko uses boxing as a way to take back control of her life. A dramatic flashback when she is in the climactic bout reveals the traumatic incidents of the past that are pushing her. She can take the damage, we know that, but most revealingly she needs comfort as well. The hints were always there. Ichiko may have liked Yuji but what he really became fascinated by when she watched boxing was the sense of sportsmanship, that two fighters can hug each other at the end of a match despite hurting one another. That’s what she needed, people to embrace her and not reject her even when she hurt them.
She gets it at the end of the film.
We see those around her watch her fight and their reactions clearly show that they are re-assessing her for the determination and grit she has displayed to get to the end and the reckless courage to step into the ring and fight shows she has dignity. 100 Yen Love? Ichiko’s stock has risen by the end of the film and seeing her come out standing is satisfying and inspirational.
The filming style is grungy and immediate, the acting is straight from the hip and heart, and the script strips away all the meet-cute clichés of the expected love story and imagines what it is really like to be a thirty-something woman in Japan who uses sport to better herself. In the process of doing this Date a stirring tale of a come-back kid we can all root for.
Also, fun fact, Creephyp composed and performed the film’s theme song, “Hyakuhachi en no Koi” which can be heard at the end of the film (it’s a pretty miserable song despite the hyper melody) and they are a key part in two of Daigo Matsui’s film, How Selfish I Am! (2013) and Our Huff and Puff Journey (2015) since they inspired the two film’s story, made the music for them and even appeared in them.
This is one of my huge reviews where I basically explain how I saw the entire movie. I apologise if I sent you to sleep the film itself is really good, probably one of the best J-movies I saw last year and I recommend it.