26th Aug2021

Fantasia 2021: ‘April Story’ Review

by Alain Elliott

Stars: Kaori Fuji, Takako Matsu, Seiichi Tanabe | Written and Directed by Shunji Iwai

Even though I’d call myself a fan of Asian cinema, the reality is, if it isn’t horror or animated, I probably haven’t seen it. So I was thrilled to get the chance to watch 1998’s April Story at this year’s Fantasia Fest.

On the face of things, April Story is a very simple movie and not a whole lot happens. In Spring a girl, Uzuki Nireno, leaves the island of Hikkaido and her home town to attend University in Tokyo. And that’s kinda the whole story. We follow her as she struggles a little with being out of her comfort zone and the city not being quite as fantastic as she hoped.

But this is not a sad story, far from it. We see her loneliness and anxiety in new situations but we see them so it feels even better when we see her overcome these things. And she does, this is a happy story.

Although it is a well written and engrossing film it is helped along with seemingly effortless performances from its cast and non more so than the lead Takako Matsu as Uzuki. April Story isn’t exactly heavy on the dialogue but what little Uzuki says is important and perfectly acted. But the acting is even greater in the small moments, such as her trying to help the men moving her belongings into her new room. Or uneasiness and second guessing of herself in slightly stressful situation. Matsu is brilliantly at portraying everything with a look or movement, it’s a truly impressive and engrossing performance.

Shunji Iwai is an experienced director (even in 1998 when the film was released) and he has a brand new movie at this year’s Fantasia Festival, the brilliantly titled The 12 Day Tale Of The Monster That Died In 8. His experience shows as April Story looks beautiful, expertly showing how a new city and it’s surroundings can be both beautiful and terrifying. This is the first film of his I have seen and I will definitely be checking out more.

April Story is only about seventy minutes long. Too short? Maybe, but only in the way that when it ended I desperately wanted to see more. I wanted to know what was going to happen with these characters, specifically Uzuki. But I’m sure that would have been the case at whatever time period in her life the film ended. The key part to how it ends is that you feel she is happy, that things are going well and will continue to go well for her in the future.

April Story is a film to watch if you want to relax or need a hug and a smile. It’s a pleasing and lovely film and I wish there were more of its kind.

**** 4/5

April Story screened as part of this years Fantasia Film Festival.

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