One of the most famous shoujo (girls) manga artists in all of Japan is Yazawa Ai. Yazawa made her mark on Japanese pop culture by penning a slew of embarrassingly addictive romantic coming-of-age stories with strong emphases on fashion, music, and alternative subcultures – most notably the series NANA. Paradise Kiss is Yazawa’s second most successful series; the five volume manga has also been adapted into a very good anime series. The 2011 Paradise Kiss live action film (dir. Shinjo Takehiko) is undoubtedly the least-successful reincarnation of the story, with a disappointing cast of young idols failing miserably to breathe any life into Yazawa’s iconic characters.
Hayasaka Yukari (Kitagawa Keiko) is an up-tight high school student who has spent most of her life studying and practicing for entrance exams to please her overbearing mother. Enrolled in one of the top high schools in Tokyo, Yukari is finding it increasingly difficult to keep up with her more intellectually gifted peers. On her way to cram school, Yukari runs into the young punk rocker Arashi, who attempts to recruit her as the model for his group’s final design project at the Yazagaku fashion school. After meeting the other members of the design group ‘Paradise Kiss’ – the adorable gothic-lolita Miwako and cross-dressing Isabella – Yukari wants nothing to do with the gang of slackers. On her way out the door, however, Yukari runs into the captivating Koizumi George (Mukai Osamu). Drawn to her height and bitchy appearance, George convinces Yukari to be their model. As she is drawn deeper into the world of modeling and fashion, Yukari begins to shape her own path in life, stand up to her domineering mother, and fall in love with George.
Yazawa’s storylines aren’t extraordinarily complex; young girls asserting their independence and following their dreams/the guys they love. What makes Yazawa’s stories great is how well she portrays her characters – they all have depth, they are all unique, and they are all highly loveable. In part due to Yazawa’s unique artistic style (all of her characters are tall and absolutely rail thin) and in part due to the limited acting abilities of the live action cast, none of the young actors in the movie were able to convincingly portray the characters of Paradise Kiss. Kitagawa Keiko is far too short and robotic for Yukari’s character (whose icy exterior is really just an attempt hide low self-esteem) and is extremely unbelievable as a model. Ironically, Kitagawa actually got her start as a model for Japanese Seventeen, but Yazawa Ai’s 2-dimensional illustrations of Yukari modeling are a thousand times more dynamic than Kitagawa’s blah modeling presence. Mukai Osamu is a rather atrocious casting decision for the charismatic George, whose character is supposed absolutely ooze sex appeal. The other casting choices are equally unfortunate; the petite Miwako, played by Omasa Aya (another real-life model), towers over Yukari and Kaku Kento (as Arashi) makes the least believable punk rocker in the history of the universe.
Finally, for a movie about fashion, the clothes in Paradise Kiss are altogether horrible and seem to be the unfortunate result of a regrettably low budget (the production probably spent all of their money sending the crew to New York City for the final scene). The entire movie seems thrown together, messy, and does a huge disservice to the beautiful artwork and story crafted by Yazawa Ai. Even the bittersweet and highly realistic ending of the manga is crudely altered to better fit into the teenaged image of ‘happy endings.’ Ultimately, Paradise Kiss is an unfortunate product of the most uncreative and dull side mass-produced Japanese pop-culture and is just as vapid and meaningless as the factory-like studio system that made it. If you love Yazawa Ai and Paradise Kiss, do yourself a favor and stick to the manga and anime series