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“Tori Girl”

Yukina and Sakaba approach their plane. © 2017 “Tori Girl” Production Committee

By David Yamaguchi, The North American Post

FOR FIVE YEARS I have been a regular user of YouTube, mainly because it allows me to maintain my second-language Japanese in the near-absence of real conversation opportunities. I just have to watch a J-drama or movie a week. Through such viewing, I continue to be pleasantly surprised at the content that becomes available on this free provider.

One such opportunity is a beta English-subtitled version of “Tori Girl,” a popular 2017 movie.

Translators for English subtitles sometimes post such versions temporarily to get feedback on their work. I found this version so amusing that I watched it three times, in part to catch funny lines that I missed.

The opening scenes of the film introduce cute Yukina Toriyama (Tao Tsuchiya of “Rurouni Kenshin”), a drifting-through-life college student on her way to her first day at a technical college. On catching the bus to campus, however, Yukina-chan finds that she is surrounded by geeky guys wearing glasses and plaid. The observation prompts her to get off the bus, to reconsider her college choice.

The film had me, right there, for I have worn glasses since the sixth(?) grade, and have been partial to plaid for years.

What renews Yukina’s interest in continuing on to campus is that the bus is suddenly passed by a jock on a racing bike, Taishi Sakaba (Shotaro Mamiya; of the riotous TV drama, “Mr. Nietzsche in the Convenience Store;” also on YouTube). So there is at least one cool guy on campus.

In class, Yukina meets classmate Kazumi Shimamura (Elaiza Ikeda, of “ReLIFE”), who becomes her muse, and gently steers her toward the human-powered flight club. A popular activity among college engineering students, their goal is to yearly design and build an airplane whose propeller is turned by bicyclist[s]. It helps Yukina that the club leader is also an ikemen—a good-looking guy— Kei Takahashi (Mahiro Takasugi), who
also catches her eyes. Sakaba and Takahashi are the two best cyclists on campus, so are the ones on whom the bespectacled engineering students place their hopes and dreams.

The annual contest, a real-world event, is a summer competition held at Lake Biwa, the large inland lake that one passes on the shinkansen on the approach to Kyoto from Tokyo. While human-powered flight vehicles lack commercial applications, they make for a great design competition. According to Wikipedia, a key is the power-to-weight ratio of the cyclists.

Tori Girl weaves this point into its plot. For it turns out that Yukina is the number-three cyclist on campus—determined by lab testing on stationary bikes—owing to her having pedaled a heavy, old-fashioned “mama-Charlie” bike daily to high school. Thus, when Kei is injured in a flight-test accident, Yukina must get into the airplane with the first Mr. Looks-Good-in-Racing-Tights. Accordingly, Yukina starts spending her days practicing bicycling with Sakaba.

You’ll find that you can’t help but root for the two as their plane is pushed off the cliff at the end of the competition launch pad. I encourage readers to watch Tori Girl while it
remains available online.

Separately, YouTube recommends the real Birdman Festival competition as a must-see Kansai [western Japan] event. Here, essential advance viewing includes footage from the
record-holding 2011 flight made by the tsunami-inspired team from Tohoku University. That outstanding flight appears to be the one on which the film is based.

Tori Girl (2017, 97 min)
© 2017 “Tori Girl” Production Committee