In Japanese helmer Hitoshi Ohne’s de facto musical “Love Strikes!,” a 30-year-old nerd with a job at a trendy online fanzine, his every humiliating passing thought blurted out in voiceover, experiences a painful late adolescence before briefly, inexplicably becoming irresistible to women. Though a full-scale, over-the-top production number kicks off the action, it’s the subsequent off-key karaoke sessions, during which the shy protag belts out love’s angst, that make the picture a musical by default. A domestic megahit based on a popular manga and TV show, the generally engaging pic may prove too culturally specific for wider appeal.
Yukiyo Fujimoto (Mirai Moriyama), who covers music fests for the fanzine, is the staff’s resident virgin and butt of all jokes. Tweeting every self-pitying second to an indifferent world, Yukiyo is astounded when a certain Matsuo tweets him back, and a dialogue soon flows both ways. Yukiyo sets up a face-to-face meeting with the guy behind the Matsuo avatar, only to find himself confronted by an adorable girl, Miyuki (Masami Nagasawa, winner of a Japanese Academy Award for her work here), who seems to relate to him in all his unadulterated dorkiness.
Unfortunately for Yukiyo, the eminently lovable Miyuki already has a boyfriend, a married musicfest promoter, and most of Yukiyo’s horny overtures are not even perceived as such by Miyuki. Miyuki brings along a girlfriend, Rumiko (Kumiko Aso), who falls for Yukiyo; her unrequited affection and companionship during karaoke sessions (complete with sing-along Japanese lyrics) place Yukiyo in the unenviable position of administering to Rumiko the same humiliation he passively accepts from Miyuki.
Indeed, it’s remarkable that Moriyama succeeds in infusing Yukiyowith so much likability, given the character’s pathetic desperation and the film’s unrelentingly sardonic tone toward him. Thesping, in fact, is spot-on throughout; Nagasawa’s Miyuki is never overly cutesy or disingenuous, and Aso makes Rumiko a worthy feminine foil to Moriyama’s self-centered nerd.
The film’s musicfest finale conjures new levels of hysteria, a frenetic sampling of onstage musical acts and even a measure of maturity.