Zero-to-hero movies, usually about athletes or musicians or other folks engaged in something competitive and cinematic (baseball, yes; darts, no), are a staple of the film business in Japan. One reason: Audiences here admire gaman — the perseverance the protagonists display in pursuit of their group or individual goals. Another reason: They enjoy a good cry and these films reliably deliver, guide to singing usually with a final heart-warming, tear-wrenching triumph.
Masahide Ichii’s “Bring on the Melody!” is among the latest in this sub-genre. Based on a teen mystery novel series by Sei Hatsuno that has already launched a manga and TV anime, the film starts naively formulaic, as though Ichii, who also wrote the script, somehow hadn’t heard that some of his tropes were gray-bearded cliches.
The film largely drops the mystery plots of the novels, but keeps its focus squarely on a universal truth: Being a high school hero — the one who makes the big play on the field or hits the high note in the big concert — sounds wonderful in the abstract, but can be guide to singing terrifying in the moment. And what if you’re not the hero type to begin with but instead an ordinary, if unusually persistent, teenage girl?
The story begins with one such girl, Chika (Kanna Hashimoto), a new freshman at a Shizuoka Prefecture high school. On the bus Chika encounters Haruta (Shori Sato), a former classmate from elementary school, who has now grown tall, cute and emotionally distant. But when Chika conceives an ambition to revive the school’s wind band — it folded in acrimony and discord — she enlists a reluctant Haruta, who plays the French horn, and together they set out to persuade at least seven other kids to join.
Bring on the Melody! (Haruchika) Rating 3 out of 5 Run Time 119 mins Language Japanese Opens Now showing
The elderly school principal (Kotaro Shiga) has given them three weeks to recruit a total of nine members — one for each instrument. Otherwise, he tells them, the band will have to stay in limbo for at least another year.