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  Tokyo Marble Chocolate Love is the sweetest thing
Year: 2007
Director: Naoyoshi Shiotani
Stars: Nana Mizuki, Takahiro Sakurai, Marina Inoue, Mitsuo Iwata, Yuichi Nakamura, Aika Fujiha, Eriko Kawasaki, Katsuhisa Houki, Megumi Takamoto, SEAMO, Takuma Suzuki, Tetsuharu Ota
Genre: Comedy, Animated, Romance, FantasyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: It’s Christmas and Tokyo teenager Yudai (voiced by Takahiro Sakurai) somehow can’t confess his feelings for girlfriend Chizuru (Nana Mizuki). He’s hopelessly awkward and shy and just that little bit intimidated by her. Recently when the couple were hassled by a gang of no-good street punks, it was sweet, innocent Chizuru who kicked their collective asses while Yudai stood idly by. Every relationship he ever had ended in disaster. Now Yudai is determined to pluck up enough courage to tell Chizuru he loves her, hoping she’ll feel the same way. So he arranges the perfect date with the perfect gift of a cuddly pet rabbit. Except midway through, Yudai receives a phone call from the pet store owner telling him that a so-called “mini-donkey” snuck into his gift box instead. “Be careful. Mini-donkeys are feisty little creatures”, he warns Yudai. Sure enough, this bizarre buck-toothed animal bursts out of its box and creates havoc in the coffee shop. It also draws Yudai and Chizuru on seperate misadventures, fraught with mishaps and misunderstandings before a chance for reconciliation arrives atop the Tokyo Tower.

Tokyo Marble Chocolate is a gourmet treat available in some of the most exclusive sweet shops throughout the sprawling city. Quite why it shares its name with this anime is anyone’s guess, although both are equally sweet and satisfying. Production I.G., an anime studio better known for hard-edged science fiction and horror thrillers such as Ghost in the Shell (1995) and Blood: The Last Vampire (2000) as well as the animated sequences in Kill Bill: Volume One (2003), produced this whimsical confection in collaboration with BMG Japan to commemorate their twentieth anniversary. Western cultural commentators fixated on giant robots and tentacle horrors have overlooked how anime excels at the gentler genre of romantic comedy. Indeed true anime fans rate romantic fantasies like Kimagure Orange Road (1987), His and Her Circumstances (1998) and Maison Ikkoku (1986) a lot higher than the dystopian nightmare of Masamune Shirow.

This charming and ingenious slapstick romance unfolds in two parts, told from seperate perspectives: his and her’s. Boasting a pastel palette akin to a box load of sugared almonds, the fifty-four minute film stands as a lesson in crafting vivid, instantly engaging characters. From a simple setup, director Naoyoshi Shiotani spins all sorts of colourful chaos as the plot plays as an extended metaphor for the act of making oneself vulnerable and taking a chance on love. A dejected Yudai is further mortified when he overhears what he thinks is Chizuru discussing his shortcomings with another suitor. Chizuru in turn arrives at Yudai’s apartment only to encounter his sexy friend Miki (Marina Inoue) has spent the night, having just had a fight with her boyfriend. Naturally, she misunderstands and so it goes until the rambunctious mini-donkey, a memorably oddball creation with punk mohawk, yellow muzzle and a diaper (!) wrapped round its nether regions, engineers a second chance for love.

Punctuating the action are an array of surreal and surprisingly experimental flights of fancy that are beautifully animated via a mixture of traditional two-dimensional images and CGI. These provide a window into our protagonists’ psychological state, their anxieties and aspirations for the relationship. As it turns out, Chizuru has just as many hang-ups about love and commitment as Yudai. Her side of the story kicks off with an hilarious flashback montage revealing how she once accidentally punched out a former boyfriend’s big sister, dated a two-timer, and once got so drunk she savaged another former flame in a crowded restaurant! Given very few rom-coms go the downbeat route, a happy ending is a foregone conclusion, but the film remains an engaging experience for hopeless romantics. Takeshi Yanagawa supplies the equally likeable J-pop soundtrack featuring hip-hop artist SEAMO who also contributes a small vocal cameo.

Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam


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