Juujika (The Cross) is based on a novel. It’s about a teenage boy, Shunsuke, who is a bully victim in school and how his suicide affects the people around him for 20 years. In short, it’s a human drama that focuses on real life situations (bullying), friendship, agony, frustration, depression and forgiveness.
Shunsuke is a normal teenager just going about his life like every other boy, except he’s constantly being bullied for no apparent reason by his own classmates. Trashing his locker, books, desks, torturing him in the toilet, forcing him to take off his clothes and shoving his face with porn mags are just among the daily treatments he gets. That scene when the bullies take his pants off is kinda hard to watch.
He has to endure this with all other students watching as 3 of his classmates bully him. Sanada (Koide Keisuke) happens to one of those bystanders and while he doesn’t really act (like reporting to the teachers), he shows concern by trying to stop the bullies, although it’s more like half-assed action. But he’s the only one who tries to actually do something.
Another student, Sayuri (Kimura Fumino) is also the only one to greet him when he’s basically ignored by the entire school. As such, Shunsuke develops feelings towards her, unbeknownst to her. Shunsuke always wears smiles at home and pretending everything’s fine in front of his family. His mother Sumiko (Yasuko Tomita) senses something wrong but when she voices out her concern to the father, Haruo (Masatoshi Nagase), he brushes it off. This is until Shunsuke finally has enough and decides to end his life.
There has been a lot of dramas/movies documenting school bullying in Japan. I thought I’ve seen it all and won’t be affected by this, but damn I feel so sorry for Shunsuke. All the things he has to put up with. It’s probably the way the director films it that makes it raw and real. Kudos to them too for casting such a normal looking young actor who really fits the part. He looks so sweet and innocent, the perfect kind to bully, unfortunately.
When Shunsuke commits suicide, he leaves a letter naming 4 people. Two of them are the bullies whereby he said he would not forgive them. Sanada is mentioned as his best friend and he gives Sayuri a present (it is her birthday when he dies). He thanks both of them. Shunsuke’s parents then begins a rapport with Sanada and Sayuri because their names are mentioned. The thing is, Sanada has never been Shunsuke’s best friend. Both Sanada and Sayuri are put in a tough position as they’re not close at all with Shunsuke. As such, they share some sort of understanding for each other and became friends (they aren’t close to be begin with).
After they graduate, both of them are moving on with their lives as they head to Tokyo for further studies. They start dating too. However, the past still haunts them from time to time as they’re guilt-ridden. Sanada just wants to put the past behind him while Sayuri still visits Shunsuke’s family. This causes some rift between them.
Fast forward a few years later, Sanada’s married with someone he meets in Tokyo and now has a 3 year old son. Kensuke (Shunsuke’s younger brother) meets Sanada to inform him that his mother passes away.
I like how his relationship with Sayuri never works out because really, being together is just gonna bring those haunting memories they’ve been trying so hard to put behind.
This movie is actually better and heavier than I expected. I like how it doesn’t ‘force’ you to ‘feel’ for the characters. I may not make much sense but you know how sometimes there are cheesy scenes being shoehorned and ends up giving the opposite effect? This movie lacks that, for which I’m thankful for. It just shows you how things are in real life. No lengthy conversations to explain every single thing. You can tell from the characters’ facial reactions and body language if they’re depressed, frustrated or put in an awkward position. That being said, the cast is really good. The only gripe I have, is how they try to make Koide Keisuke and Kimura Fumino act as students. Fumino can still pass as she blends in with the other younger cast better but Koide just sticks out lol
I have to mention some memorable scenes. Shunsuke’s bullying are well captured and the young actor, despite not having much screentime, manage to grab my heart and I pity him a lot. His mother’s scenes with both Sanada and Sayuri are heartbreaking too. Especially when she thinks they’re Shunsuke’s close friends and keeps thanking them for being there for him. The sheer discomfort and guilt on both Sanada and Sayuri’s faces! Also when Sayuri can’t hold it in any longer and tells the mother what happens on the day Shunsuke dies. She feels guilty for cutting Shunsuke off when he calls her to ask if he can pass her the birthday gift. She thinks if she has just met him that day and be nice to him, he might not have committed suicide.
This is a movie that really relies heavily on the cast, a very character-driven story. It’s a simple plot with deep character study. Koide Keisuke’s character is probably the most developed starting from when he is a bystander, then he gets dragged into this situation when his name is written and has to pretend in front of Shunsuke’s parents for so long. Not knowing how to deal properly with it, he seals it away and thinks maybe if he just leaves the hometown, gets a fresh start in Tokyo, he may be able to put it behind him. But that guilt has never really left. When he enters fatherhood, he comes to understand just what exactly Shunsuke thinks of him when similar situation happens with his son. Rather than ‘best friend’, Shunsuke most probably looks up to him. I like how he only comes to realize this when he reaches that certain age and not like when he’s younger making it more realistic. There are certain things that one can only understand when he matures.
The part where Sayuri narrates her letters to Sanada is a nice addition, showing us briefly her married life and how she feels about things now. Like Sanada, she really looks believable as a parent. She mentions how for the last 20 years, everytime her birthday comes around, rather than celebrating, it becomes Shunsuke’s death anniversary. But one day, during her birthday, being too busy with her kids, she manages to forget about her birthday and Shunsuke. Little by little, the burden starts to wear off.
Yup, love that scene where Sanada is playing football with his son. Then it turns into him playing with Shunsuke, giving his character a good closure to come to terms with the past.
Overall, a good movie. Well if you can’t handle this type of depressing heavy movie, then you better avoid this. While it didn’t make me cry, I almost did during that football scene. What a liberation! Also I think the cast did a great job here especially Koide Keisuke.