By: Daniel Volfson
“Tremble All You want” is the only single satisfying romcom I’ve seen this year among a slew of crude look-alikes. Hollywood moguls relentlessly mine the genre for its mass-appeal potential, and the run-of-the-mill romcom usually has the distinctive feel of being composed on an assembly line. The typical one you’ll see will give you the impression that the writers behind it were all-too eager to hit all the commercially-vetted notes, and in the process, sacrificed all the charm and charisma that come with the best of the genre. “Tremble All You Want” is one of the few films which don’t succumb to this routinized filmmaking formula. It’s an endearingly buoyant film which preserves all the vital elements that most of its counterparts neglect in their pursuit of good old formula.
Young professional Yoshika Eto (Mayu Matsuoka) has nurtured an idealized image of nonchalant and self-contained Ichi since the eighth grade. Her ideal has festered for over a decade in the furthest reaches of her heart and now she has an unrelenting compulsion to make the fantasy into a reality. The only problem is that she’s lavished virtually all of her emotional resources on Ichi and a rejection would be devastating beyond measure. We watch with alternating sympathy and humor as she goes the most torturous roundabout path to try to unobtrusively get his attention. Meanwhile, she keeps a boyfriend nicknamed “No.2” on the reserve as a steady source of ego-flattery. No.2 is unashamedly earnest about his love for Yoshiko, and his lovestruck clumsiness is repellent to her. It’s a riff on a classic conundrum: the more No.2 puts his love on full display, the more she’s turned-off, and the more No.1 (Ichi) withholds affection, the more her obsession is kindled. The film gains its momentum from this fatefully unbalanced love triangle.
The characters are cartoonish, yes, but not in a way that detracts from their palpability as flesh-and-blood humans. There isn’t a moment where we don’t feel emotionally invested in their personalities; although their quirkiness is accentuated, the characters are not, as in many other films, merely vessels for an ongoing comedic gag. And yes, the resolution is fairly predictable, but that’s beyond the point. The enjoyment comes from watching all that leads up to the inevitable resolution—the painfully convoluted paths that only impassioned youths will subject themselves to in the name of love. Their exploits are melodramatic and puerile but that sort of over-the-top kitsch factor is the main conceit of the movie.
Its subject matter itself is, for many youths, not a light matter, but the film itself is tempered by an effervescent and uplifting tone. It shows us the travails of these characters from a safe distance which may put some of the audience members’ own romantic woes in perspective. Most importantly, it doesn’t become confused and tedious with rote plot devices and cardboard-cutout personas of characters. It doesn’t sell its soul in exchange for cheap laughs and banal sensationalism.