Director Kentaro Otani once again delves into young love and friendship with a mix of light comedy and earnest drama, and though the results are certainly amiable and enjoyable they are never magical and heartwarmingly fuzzy as they were with his previous film, NANA. As most Japanese films seem to be these days, it is based on a manga from Adachi Mitsura and though this manga influence can be sensed at times the romantically troubled narrative would seem even more at home in a Japanese Dorama – one of those snug eleven episodic series that they have mastered to perfection. The main problem with this film is that it doesn’t have the lengthy duration of either a Dorama or the manga and it feels uncomfortably squeezed into this 2- hour format. The story spans a period of three years and many side characters are introduced - but the years rush by so quickly that you barely have an opportunity to register most of the characters and rarely get a true sense of time passing.

Ami (Masami Nagasawa – “Touch”) and Keisuke (Mokomichi Hayami – a television idol) first meet at a swimming competition where Keisuke is racing freestyle as is Ami’s mentor and “big brother” Hiroki. Hiroki is the best at this event in Japan and easily bests the much younger Keisuke, but after the race Keisuke bumps into Ami and is called a “murderer” by her. This leaves him speechless and confused and in typical Japanese adolescent male fashion unable to ask her what on earth she means by that. Later he gets the chance to discover why. It turns out that both of them have enrolled in Eisen High School and will both be living at the dormitory for students with sports scholarships. Not really knowing much about the Japanese school system this sort of confused me – is high school in Japan for much older students than in the United States because all the actors look and act much too old to be in a US high school (13-17 years old). Where are all the pimples? The title “Rough” comes from the fact that the dormitory monitor describes them as rough sketches to be filled in as they get older.

Initially, the film looks to be heading down a comic road with the introduction of the many quirky students – women living on one floor, men on the other – and some amusing bits and potential off beat romances but this all soon gives way to the serious off and on relationship between Ami, Keisuke and Hiroki. In a lottery “One Day Dating” contest Keisuke ends up on a date with Ami and discovers that her animosity towards him stems from an old rivalry between their families in the candy business when Keisuke’s grandfather stole the idea of the “Heh Heh” owl from the “Ho Ho” owl but added ears and so drove the “Ho Ho” out of business. Even with this past family discordance the two of them grudgingly become friends and finally develop strong feelings for one another but are reluctant to speak about it and the years begin to pass. Lots of other characters and complications pop their heads into the story as does a great deal of swimming, but primarily the tension is created by whether these two youngsters will straighten all of this out and simply tell the other that they love them. There are no hard edges to this film and the actors are charmingly innocent as is the material – don’t expect any sex, gang fights or drugs in this high school tale or even classes now that I think about it – it’s all adolescent love and sports and it goes down as easily and unthreateningly as a vanilla milkshake.

Viewed in a theater with subtitles.

At this time the film is on Japanese DVD but with no English subtitles.

My rating for this film: 6.5