Uneven helming and a dull male lead undermine the brilliant premise of Japanese romantic comedy "Looking for a True Fiancee," the story of an amnesiac man who can't recall to which of his girlfriends he was about to propose.

Uneven helming and a dull male lead undermine the brilliant premise of Japanese romantic comedy “Looking for a True Fiancee,” the story of an amnesiac man who can’t recall to which of his girlfriends he was about to propose. Adapting Takami Ito’s novel, first-time helmer Yuki Iwata shows a flair for captivating moments that recalls early Baz Luhrmann, but the poor pacing, even during the funniest gags, deadens every laugh. Local auds will engage with “Fiancee” in its mid-November release, but it’s probably too twee for offshore markets, although a rewrite could make it a remake contender.

Pic begins with first-aid-kit salesman Teruhiko (Takayuki Yamada) sustaining a concussion at an ice-skating rink. Finding himself in possession of an engagement ring, he can’t remember whether he was planning to pop the question to a melancholy puppeteer (Chizuru Ikewaki), an exacting biochemist (Manami Konishi) or a good-time girl (Yoko Maki). There is one more obvious candidate: the sprite-like ice skater (Fumi Nikaido) who glides like a snow angel around the rink where Teruhiko was injured.

While auds won’t miss the skater as the guy’s best chance, Teruhiko is too caught up in his dilemma to notice her. Despite its apparent simplicity, the yarn is actually more sophisticated than the setup would indicate, with eventual revelations offering some unexpectedly bitter twists.

Helmer Iwata’s previous experience with musicvideos and low-budget shorts is apparent in her inventive visual flourishes. A pleasing dance number conducted on the ice rink is a real charmer, but overall Iwata lacks the timing needed to make this romantic comedy work.

The film is further hamstrung by male lead Yamada, who’s too stiff to be funny and not stiff enough to be hilarious. Better suited to more dramatic fare like “Gantz” and “13 Assassins,” Yamada tries hard but doesn’t cut the ice as a comic performer. Talented femme thesps have less-developed characters to work with, but all throw themselves into their roles with dazzling gusto and far more success.

Pic has that flat, washed-out look that often stems from overlit HD lensing. Other tech credits are low-budget pro, although a tighter edit would exponentially improve things.

Looking for a True Fiancee

Japan

Production

A Kino Film Corp., Gaga Corp., Kinoshita Management Co. production. (International sales: Gaga Corp., Tokyo.) Produced by Yumiko Takebe, Tsutomu Hirabayashi. Executive producer, Naoya Kinoshita. Directed, written by Yuki Iwata, based on the novel by Takami Ito.

Crew

Camera (color, HD), Shuhei Onaga; music, Mino Kabasawa; production designer, Shinpei Inoue; costume designer, Sachiko Ito; sound (Dolby Digital), Hajime Komiya. Reviewed at Tokyo Film Festival (Special Screenings), Oct. 22, 2011. Running time: 108 MIN.

With

Takayuki Yamada, Manami Konishi, Yoko Maki, Chizuru Ikewaki, Fumi Nikaido.
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