Completey over-exaggerated and misdirected, Collage of our Life (Renai Shashin), sabotages itself by being way too ambitious for it's own good with an unbalanced end result. Throughout the entire viewing experience, I found myself intrigued, irritated, emotional, but ultimately disappointed.
Masato (Ryuhei Matsuda), is an aspiring photographer, spending night and day capturing the world around him on film. He also has a love for all things English, and practices the English language as often as possible regardless of how weird his friends think he is. A somewhat dark and private individual, Masato's life takes an unexpected twist when he meets the bright and mysterious Shizuru (Ryoko Hirosue). Masato is captivated by her charm and spunky personality and soon Shizuru is the center of attention in his photographs. The two become an inseparable pair, always on the go and taking photographs with one another. Eventually Shizuru moves in with Masato and grows more interested in his photography. She finds herself wanting to learn how to shoot photos as well, so she asks Masato to be her teacher. After some initial growing pains, Masato thinks she's got a real knack for shooting photos, which gives her the motivation to enter both of them in a photography contest. As you can imagine, the student surpasses the teacher and thus the green-eyed monster makes it's debut. Regardless of the endless praise Shizuru gives him, Masato feels like an untalented hack and decides to runaway from his photography and his woman. Shizuru knows that Masato will be a pro one day and when he does, she'll be there waiting for him. The two lovebirds go their separate ways and three years later, a package from New York arrives in Masato's mailbox. It's from Shizuru and she's been in NYC for the last three years taking photos and informs him that she's got her first exhibition coming up and would love nothing more than to have him there. Naturally, this throws Masato into another jealous fit of rage, so he throws the letter and the accompanying photos in the trash. Wanting to get his mind off Shizuru's letter, Masato goes to a class reunion his friends convinced him to attend. However, he soon realizes it was mistake as everyone seems to have found a career and he's still struggling to find his way in life. A former classmate turned news reporter informs Masato of some troubling news that she heard about Shizuru which gives Masato the urge to go to New York and find out what's going on with her first-hand. Now in the "Big Apple", Masato doesn't find the city to be very accommodating, but eventually develops a strange relationship with a man by the name of Cassius (Dominic Marcus), who has a penchant for all things Japanese. Cassius helps Masato find Shizuru's apartment only to discover that she's not there...and hasn't been for quite some time. A friend of Shizuru's named Aya (Eiko Koike), runs into Masato and tells him that she's in Mexico shooting more photos for her exhibition at Convoy's Gallery. Masato tries to take care of things for Shizuru while she's away, but as more time passes, he becomes increasingly suspicious about where she really is...and if she's coming back.
Oh man did I really want to like this movie more than I did. Your attention is grabbed immediately by the fact that Ryuhei Matsuda's character is narrating the entire story in English. A rarity indeed. Everything starts off great, but the minute Masato lands in New York the whole movie goes right down the drain. The poor direction from Yukihiko Tsutsumi really keeps Collage of our Life from being the heart-warming, coming-of-age, dramatic love-story that it could've been. Instead, it's a hodge-podge of romance, drama, comedy, violence, and 9/11 stock footage! Movies shouldn't try to be so many different things all at once. I thought I was watching a romance while the characters were still in Japan, but after that it was a fish-out-of-water dramatic mystery. Comedy of the unintentional kind came courtesy of the American actors in the New York scenes. I looked it up, and AmeriFilm Casting...I got my eye on you. Apparently they'll hire any no-talent bum to be in their films. All of the "characters" portrayed in New York were over-the-top stereotypes of how the rest of the world (at least Japan apparently), seem to view Americans. Masato gets the hell beat out of him constantly just because he's walking down the street. If I were a Japanese man and I saw this movie, I'd never go to New York...ever. The portrait painted of this city was that of a living nightmare from the minute the plane landed. The acting from Ryuhei Matsuda and Ryoko Hirosue were fantastic, and so much better than everyone else in the movie. They're the only ones I'm willing to call actors. The first forty-five minutes are wonderful and the last fifteen minutes make for an ending wrought with emotion. You're left with an hour of mind-numbing filler that can only be described as laughable and unfortunate. Some of the cinematography was really original and beautiful to look at, but in contrast you'll see some terrible use of special effects later on which only add to the overall unbalanced feel of everything.
I really wish I could recommend Collage of our Life, if for no other reason than to see the fine performances by the two leads. However, I'd be left with a haunting sense of guilt if I told you to watch it, because this movie is more mess than magic. And as a self-admitted super fan of Ryoko Hirosue, I can assure you my heart is breaking. (Lee)
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Japan Version DVD (*No English Subtitles)
Limited Edition Japan Version DVD (*No English Subtitles)