The Austin Chronicle

Austin Film Festival: 'Happy Ending'

By Marc Savlov, October 25, 2009, 4:46pm, Picture in Picture

Happy Ending is as kawaii -- cute -- as one of Takashi Murakami's manga-derived sculptures, and like Murakami's fire engine-apple red, metal-flake paint gorgeousities, there's a bubble gum heart beating at the center of this supersaturated Charms Blo-Pop of a movie. That heart poses a very serious question, though: To love or not to love?

Atsuhiro Yamada's debut feature also verges on becoming something of a Japanese offshoot of American mumblecore. Protagonist Na Hana (last seen in Noboro Uguchi's Machine Girl) is a wallflower-y young woman who spends her days shelving books at the local library. By night she transforms into a world-weary cineaste, frequenting a nearby movie theater that shows the classics (everything from Dawn of the Dead to Roman Holiday) before returning to her tiny apartment and falling asleep to the sound of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.

Her only real emotional engagement comes from a giggly co-worker and the employees of the video store she frequents, one of whom (Tomoharu Hasegawa) harbors a secret crush on her. That's two points of a love triangle right there; the third arrives in the dashing form of Ryunsuke Kawai, a library patron whom Hana meets-supercute even as she proclaims that real life is nothing at all like reel life and romantic comedies are strictly for suckers.

Happy Ending gets all the notes right in a paeon to love and movies (and movie-love) for the cynical and jaded. It's clear from the start that director Yamada knows his way around both the horror and romcom genres (our anti-romantic heroine returns her DVD of The Hills Have Eyes with a delighted little throwaway squeal), but it's the film's gushing, candy-colored cinematography and the slow progression of Hana's charcter from jaded fan of final girls to tentatively love-struck human being that will ultimately melt in your heart, not in your head.

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