Nakajima Ryo, who burst onto the scene with the original and refreshing This World of Ours (2007), which was immensely popular on the film festival circuit, is a promising young director that I assumed would be bold with his film-making. Being a fan of his freshman feature, I naturally was quick to pick up his sophomore effort. Rise Up disappoints in every way possible. While This World of Ours was fresh, original, and powerful, Rise Up is a complete departure, resulting in a film that is overly cliché and suffers from the pitfalls of mainstream conformity. I predicted the entire movie within the first 10 minutes and the film turned into a comedy for me as every prediction came true.
Wataru (Hayashi Kento) is standing at the top of a huge hill, enjoying the beautiful scenery before jumping off and paragliding down as his friend, Hiroya (Taiga), films him. Before touching down, a girl, Rui (Yamashita Rio), walks in Wataru's path, causing him to crash land in an unexpected way. Hiroya is angry and continuously yells at Rui, but Wataru quickly realizes that she is blind and accepts the situation.
The three meet again soon after, initiating a "job" of sorts in which the two boys lead Rui around town as if they are her "seeing-eye dogs." They soon find that she is difficult to handle, though Wataru seems to develop a liking to her. It is soon discovered that the two boys work for Rui's brother (Aoki Munetaka) at an amusement park as mascot animals, initiating a few comedic scenes. Life continues and friendship develops until certain memories come to light and expose a tragic incident that occurred in the past. (This is all in the official trailer, along with more).
Rise Up is billed as a touching, sentimental romantic drama but fails to present the events that take place in an effective manner, causing the viewer to feel disconnected from the characters. During some scenes, I was puzzled as to how things happened the way they did. Some events are just too convenient or random–a token example of a director unable to find a good flow for his movie. The story is definitely tragic and is intended to be touching, but the movie is too short to effectively immerse the viewer in the characters' world. What Rise Up does do is present the Japanese population as completely helpful and kind, as every person that Rui encounters (except for one man, who, in a rush, knocks her over) while she is out on her own never fails to assist her in the best way possible. I view this as a hopeful message to society, as real life is definitely far from the way the story presents it.
Acting is sub-par at best, even from Hayashi Kento (though he shows signs of promise and has definitely delivered acceptable performances in the past–his face stands up well to the intimate camera-work). The characters themselves are one-dimensional, performing as expected and never straying from the generic path established in the beginning. The two friends–Wataru and Hiroya–are opposites; Wataru is kind, understanding, and quiet, while Hiroya is loud and argumentative, though good at heart. These two are perfect friends, playing off one another well. As a side note– I assume that a major draw to most potential viewers is the possible romantic aspect between Wataru and Rui, but it is not as involved as you may expect. You have been warned.
Though Rise Up is drastically different from This World of Ours in subject matter, it somewhat retains the stylistic camera-work of Nakajima's first film (in which he was the cinematographer; however, he chose to use a separate cinematographer for Rise Up). The camera is intimate, though less in-your-face and not filmed in the hand-held style, and I did find it to be visually pleasing. The soundtrack is all over the place, with some tracks honestly sounding like music you would hear in a commercial or a hotel lobby. These are contrasted with some uplifting tracks and the inclusion of the classical piano masterpiece, Clair de Lune, three separate times.
Rise Up is a disappointing effort by Nakajima Ryo to make a mainstream, commercially accessible film, unlike his previous, drastically different This World of Ours. Though it includes some beautiful and visually pleasing shots, the film as a whole exudes amateurism, which worked for This World of Ours, but fails in this context. It's not overlong and is paced fairly well, but the flow of events is improvised in some cases and doesn't completely work as a whole. This is a tragic drama that attempts to be sentimental, and it is–but it falls short of making a lasting impression on the viewer because of its unbelievable story and awkward flow. I hope your next film is an improvement, Mr. Nakajima.