REVIEW: Have A Song On Your Lips (2015)

A jaded musician returns to her rural hometown to work temporarily as a teacher, only to regain something he thought she lost.


By Raymond Arcega
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Have A Song On Your Lips

Original Title: くちびるに歌を
Year: 2015
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Genres: Drama, Slice of Life, Musical
Director: Miki Takahiro


Kashiwagi Yuri (Aragaki Yui) is a former professional musician escaping the busy Tokyo city life by returning to her hometown in the Goto Islands of Nagasaki. She has come back home to relieve her friend on maternity leave as a substitute teacher, though Yuri doesn’t seem so enthusiastic about doing so.

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Tasked with taking charge over the school’s chorus club, Kashiwagi Sensei meets Nazuna (Tsunematsu Yuri), the club’s outspoken chief. Nazuna’s dedication for the choir to compete in an upcoming contest clashes with the teacher’s apathetic attitude. They butt heads, especially after Yuri’s attractive looks attracts boys into become members of the all-girl choir.

The story kicks off seemingly like a typical underdog story, of which many great ones have come from Japan, such as Swing Girls, Waterboys, and Shodo Girls. Though, it was obvious from troubled backgrounds of the main characters, and the fact that Miki Takahiro is the director, that we were in for something more dramatic than the typical comedic tale of losers.

If you have seen director Miki’s other films, like Solanin, Bokura ga Ita (both halves), The Girl in the Sunny Place, and Blue Spring Ride, you will be familiar with the director’s dramatic style. That is, have a box of tissues ready.

Though not a romantic film, Miki proves he can pull tears out of the audience’s eyes by utilizing his mastery in making stories extremely sentimental. The sentimentalism seemed like a little too much at times, especially with how fun and light the film starts. But, when everything tied up in the final act, it really felt like enduring through everyone’s overly tragic back stories was worth it.

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Aragaki’s performance deserves praise. However, the highlight of the film should be the performances of the kids cast to be in the film’s choir. Typically, characters in youth films are portrayed by idols who are no longer in their teenage years. However, the innocence and naivety of the junior high characters felt real, as all their ages were very close to the ones of the kids they portrayed.

One thing that wrapped up the story nicely was the beautiful song written and performed by Angela Aki – “Tegami ~Haikei Juugo no Kimi e~” (“Letter -A Greeting To Your 15 Year Old Self-“). The song was actually released in 2008, seven years prior to the release of the film.

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Aki had originally written the song for NHK, Japan’s national broadcast network, to be the mandatory song for the 75th NHK National School Music Contest. It is a song that just about every Japanese person knows, as thousands of them have sung it in junior high school music classes and chorus performances.

The “letter to one’s 15-year old self” in the title of the theme song served as the centerpiece to the growth of Aragaki’s character. It what made Yuri remember the reason she plays music, and also what made it possible for her to connect with her students. The song was also sung by the choir fittingly in the final act.

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Overall, Have a Song on Your Lips isn’t a breakthrough in the underdog or slice of life genres, but it is an enjoyable addition. As mentioned before, prepare to endure through director Miki’s sentimental storytelling. But in the end, you will have enjoyed a wonderful soundtrack, awesome scenery, and a satisfying cry.


Watch this film…

…if you don’t believe a song sung by a junior high school choir would ever make you cry.


About the Author

Raymond Arcega

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