Remembering the Cosmos Flower (1997)
Directed by Junichi Suzuki
Cast: Akane Oda, Megumi Matsushita, Mari Natsuki.
1997 103 minutes (in Japanese w/English Subtitles)
Rated: [NR] (equivalent of a PG rating for mature themes).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, July 19, 1999.
Japanese filmmaker Junichi Suzuki's "Remembering the Cosmos Flower" is such a well-meaning drama that you almost feel guilty criticizing it, but, ultimately, the movie paints a decidedly syrupy, manipulative picture on the subject of the AIDS virus. Foreign films, more often than not, are far more intelligent than American films, because it is often said that foreigners write about adults while Americans write about children. With "Remembering the Cosmos Flower," this theory unfortunately doesn't hold up, as you can always see Suzuki straining to get the viewer to shed some tears. I almost did once; I admittedly felt myself welling up all so slightly, but only because my tear ducts felt as if they were being violently yanked about.
After being away for seven years in South America, 15-year-old Akiko (Akane Oda) returns to her hometown in Japan with her mother. While overseas, she and her father were in an automobile accident; he died, while she was given a blood transfusion, as well as AIDS. Word spreads quickly through the Japanese town as many parents start threatening to keep their children out of school if Akiko attends, oblivious to the reality of AIDS, which is that it can't be passed through the air or simple touch. Akiko and her caring mother (Mari Natsuki) are strong-willed people, and things brighten up when Akiko is reunited with her childhood friend, Natsumi (Megumi Matsushita), who is also cautious at first until she is educated more on the disease and realizes how much pain Akiko is going through, both physically and emotionally. Akiko knows she isn't going to be living for much longer and is terrified of death, but keeps her chin held high and desperately tries to not let anything negative affect her. As the town's festival approaches, Akiko and Natsumi plan out a comedy skit to perform in the school talent show, but when Akiko falls ill in the hospital, Natsumi is urged to carry on their original plans alone.
"Remembering the Cosmos Flower" is mature and realistic when it deals with Akiko and Natsumi's close friendship, as well as the portrayal of how everyone deals with her inevitable death, but along the way Suzuki has felt the need to include several melodramtic scenes that ring with a resounding falseness. One such scene comes toward the end, when Natsumi goes on-stage to perform their comedy act alone and is greeted by the audience with several prejudiced remarks about Akiko. Standing up there in front of everyone, Natsumi makes a heartfelt speech defending her friend and educating everyone on the seriousness of AIDS, which concludes with half the audience crying and everyone clapping. Film scenes like this always rub me the wrong way because they are so far-strung from reality, and it doesn't help that the movie seems outdated. Ten or fifteen years ago I may have believed this story because AIDS was a relatively new disease that not many people knew much about. Coming in the late-'90s, however, the characters that inhabit the town in this film apparently know nothing about AIDS and react in a ludicrous manner that I couldn't believe for a second.
On the positive side, the performances by the two leads are winning and poignant. Akane Oda effectively presents Akika as a girl coping day by day with her disease, even amidst all of the negativity that is thrown at her and her mother. Megumi Matsushita is equally superb as Natsumi, Akika's best friend who gradually studies up on AIDS and learns that Akika is just like everyone else, except that she has a far more difficult battle ahead of her for the rest of her life. Natsumi's conflicted relationship with her stubborn father is well-done also, as he constantly is trying to stop his daughter and Akika from spending time together, and in one of the film's more truthful moments, Natsumi blows up at her dad for being so narrow-minded under the circumstances.
"Remembering the Cosmos Flower" cannot be faulted for its superior actors or some of the memorable relationships that are developed here, but it is an otherwise mechanical motion picture, one that is both predictable, in a sappy sort of way, and out-of-date. Its heart is obviously in the right place, but as a portrait of a closed-up, uneducated society on the reality of the very serious AIDS virus, it comes at least a decade too late.
© 1999 by Dustin Putman