How to Become Myself (あしたの私のつくり方)

How to Become Myself  (あしたの私のつくり方)

directed by Jun Ichikawa (市川準), 97 minutes, Release Date 28 April 2007

Review by Susan Meehan

This is a soul-searching film of teenage angst centering on Juri (Riko Narumi -成海璃子) and Hinako (Atsuko Maeda – 前田敦子). Both attend the same junior high school and have solid groups of friends. We are made aware that at home Juri is suffering with her parents’ constant bickering and demands to get her into a good senior high school; despite these pressures she does her best to act the role of supporting, conciliatory daughter and exemplary student. We know less of Hinako’s home life, but suffer with her when she falls out of favour at school. Having been the most popular at the start of the film, she is soon ostracized in a reversal of fortunes and roles as her position is usurped by Manami Kubota, formerly the bullied student. To Juri’s chagrin, Manami also ends up winning a coveted place at the school which she fails to get into.

Juri and Hinako chat to each other on their final day of school, before going their own senior high school ways. They dwell on the existentialist theme of identity and who they are –Hinako in particular refers to her fall of grace and uncertainty as to whether the ‘real’ Hinako is the popular or bullied character.

Juri is well aware of the varying roles she has to fulfill, especially now that her parents are divorced – not only did she have to feign a certain indifference about the divorce, she has to continue being a model and understanding daughter to both mother and father, disguising her pain.

Two years on, Juri overhears classmates at her senior high school referring to Hinako and the fact that she has moved city. Guilty at not having kept in touch with her and curious about her well-being, she obtains Hinako’s phone number.  A member of her school’s creative writing club, she is simultaneously agonizing with writer’s block and ends up solving this through constantly texting Hinako guidelines – how best to behave at school in order to be popular and how to feed her boyfriend’s interest.

Under the pretext of helping Hinako, Juri ends up basing a story on this mobile phone exchange which ends up garnering her teacher’s praise. She feels remorse at having benefited in this way, but the most important thing is that both girls have fed on each other and grown as a result.  They become aware that they are products of the totality of their roles, sometimes discordant, and are loved by family and friends for who they are as a whole.

In a moving valedictory speech to her school, Juri recognizes that various facets go to informing her personality. An adolescent film in many ways, it nevertheless resonates with an older audience who remember the teenage angst so well captured by the film and are relieved to have left this stage behind. The acting, showcasing superb young female talent, and the mood music are fantastic.

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