Movie Review – When the Curtain Rises (Japanese Film Festival 2015)

EXPECTATIONS: An overly sappy and melodramatic high school drama about girls pining for boys. *shudder*

REVIEW: This film is a high school drama/slice-of-life film that stars a popular J-Pop idol group, Momoiro Clover Z as the leads and directed by the filmmaker that made Summer Time Machine Blues. But he also made the wretched piece of filth known as Shaolin Girl. I have seen Momoiro Clover Z in a film before, a very funny horror mockumentary called Shirome, which revolved around following the idol group exploring a seemingly haunted place. But the group were playing themselves and they made me question my humanity since they were so damn sweet, it made my teeth rot. So obviously, I expected this film to be quite crappy and I had my expectations low. But almost miraculously, my fears were entirely unfounded. When the Curtain Rises is a subtle and understated high school drama with good performances from Momoiro Clover Z and surprisingly understated direction from Katsuyuki Motohiro.

Saori (Kanako Momota) is a talented high school student who is stuck in a rut after having gone through, with her acting troupe (Shiroi Tamai, Reni Takagi, Ayaka Sasaki and others) another loss in a drama competition. After the arrival of a talented new teacher (Haru Kuroki) as an inspiration, she and her troupe are ecstatic to prepare as they again compete in another drama competition. The troupe go through many arduous mental and emotional journeys as they train and hone their skills, but with their immensely talented teacher and their will to succeed, will they ever reach their far-reaching goal?

Having expectations for things can be a blessing or a curse. In this case, it was a bit of a burden since knowing what the idol group Momoiro Clover Z can be like, it can be hard to really get into their acting skills. Oddly, it was really easy. First off, I found it funny to see the group in a film playing high school students learning how to act. Seeing that this is their acting debut, I can’t help but laugh a little. But the story gives ample opportunities for the actresses and they do quite well with what they got. Kanako Momota is a great lead as Saori as she conveys the perfect balance between determination, cheerfulness and nervousness. She is the best performer out of the group, which is fitting since she is the lead. Momoka Ariyasu is quite magnetic as Etsuko, the newcomer of the acting troupe and the scene she has with Momota on the train station is one of the film’s best scenes, when they reveal their dreams and ambitions as well as what they went through. The rest of the cast are funny and amusing in their own right (Reni Takagi is a bit of a hoot as Grr) but the best actor in the entire film is Haru Kuroki, who plays Ms. Yoshioka. the new drama teacher. Continuing on from her great performance in The Little House, her performance in Rises is surprisingly authoritative and maternal, especially when you consider her age (She was 24 while filming).

The acting was surprisingly good but what was even more surprising was how subtle and understated the storytelling was. As I said before, this film was directed by the man that made Shaolin Girl. Most of Motohiro’s work are not paragons of subtlety (except maybe Go Find a Psychic!), but his directorial work here works wonders for the story. Having an understated touch ensures that the events of the story never feels faked or obviously scripted that it becomes laughable. Every moment that the characters are victorious or need to be motivated feels earned and it definitely adds to the ending, which I was surprised with the execution of it. The ending is clearly showing that it is the journey the characters go through, not the destination. His understated touch also has an effect on the actors, since they are all reined in of their cuteness (until the end credits, that is), as well as the quiet musical score and the beautiful cinematography that exudes nostalgia, except for the brief scene when Saori and her acting troupe are buckling under the pressure, which shows vivid bright colours, POV shots, dutch angles and shaky-cam. All the actors are overacting, and it comes off as funny, and I thank Motohiro for not having this type of acting present throughout the film. I also loved the fact that despite the fact that the film is all about high school girls, miraculously, there’s no story about liking or pining a guy whatsoever.

The understated feel can be a bit of a problem though. At times, the film does run longer than it should and some of the story could be cut out with nil effect. For example, a subplot involving Yukko’s jealousy towards Etsuko hanging out with Saori. Also, the pop music (which probably is contractual) feels out of place with the film and slightly hinders the ending due to the timing of it all. The ending should have held out on the music for a bit to make the climax more satisfying.

But despite its flaws, the acting from Momoiro Clover Z is likable, charming and refreshingly genuine, with supporting actress Haru Kuroki standing out as Ms. Yoshioka; nothing in the film feels fake or obviously scripted (every moment feels earned) and the direction is subtle, yet affecting (the score and the cinematography are beautiful). “When the Curtain Rises” is a very good film and a great acting platform for Momoiro Clover Z that surprised me from my very low expectations.

Quickie Review


The acting debuts of Momoiro Clover Z are surprisingly natural and genuine (Kanako Momota is great as Saori, the drama director; Momoka Ariyasu is compellingly enigmatic as Etsuko; the rest are amusing and fun in their own right)

The acting standout is from Haru Kuroki, who displays authority and care as Ms. Yoshioka

The direction is simple, understated and never feels fake (every accomplishment of the characters feels earned; no forced crying or overly dramatic moments)

The ending is perfect, signifying that it is more about the journey than the destination (unlike the execution, which is mentioned below)


The running time is a bit too long (scenes about the jealousy between Yukko towards Etsuko could’ve been cut out)

The pop songs are very jarring to the film, particularly the ending (I wished the song appeared 5 seconds later after a fade-out)

SCORE: 7.5/10 (Although the film is long and the pop song inclusions are intrusive, “When the Curtain Rises is a good understated high school drama and a great acting platform for Momoiro Clover Z.)

Readers in Australia want to watch the film? Book tickets for it at Japanese Film Festival 2015! Press the logo below for more details!

Cast: Kanako Momota, Shiori Tamai, Reni Takagi, Momoka Ariyasu, Ayaka Sasaki, Haru Kuroki
Director: Katsuyuki Motohiro
Screenwriters: Oriza Hirata (novel), Kohei Kiyasu


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