In which I attempt to solidify some vague thoughts on the differences between The Purple Rose of Cairo and Tonight, at the Movies.
On the face of it, 今夜、ロマンス劇場で or Tonight, at the Movies is a Japanese variation of Woody Allen’s The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985). Both are stories about a movie-loving person falling in love with a character who literally comes out of a movie. In Tonight, it is a budding scriptwriter and assistant director named Kenji who comes to love the adventurous Princess Miyuki. In Rose, it is Cecelia, a waitress in an unhappy marriage, who falls for dreamy archaeologist Tom Baxter.
Though both begin with the idea of a dream coming true and involve the main character having to make a choice that determines the ending, Rose presents the fantasy alongside brutal reality, and its ending is rooted in the latter. Sad ending, but the most likely logical outcome. Tonight gives us a fantasy that becomes reality, with just a hint of melancholy, and gives us an ending that is closer to a fairytale.
For Cecelia, movies are an escape from her bleak life. When her repeated viewings of the movie draw Tom Baxter directly off the screen to meet her, that’s just the beginning of a story that escalates to the point where she goes from unloved, abused wife to the dream girl of two men – one of them a real movie star too! When forced to choose between the character of Tom Baxter and the person of Gil Shepherd, Cecelia chooses Gil – she chooses reality. This ultimately leads to the complete crushing of her dream.
For Kenji, movies are his life. He works on movies and watches movies, and the old black-and-white film about a “tomboy princess” and her three beast friends is one of his favourites. A thunderstorm during a screening magically causes Princess Miyuki to appear in the real world, and Kenji is dazzled. But though Miyuki can remain in the real world, she cannot have everything. If she touches a human, she would vanish forever. Kenji has to choose between a life – a future – with a real woman and thus the full human experience, or a future with the not-quite-real Miyuki and have everything but that element of touch in their relationship. Unlike Cecelia, Kenji chooses the fantasy.
Yet in a roundabout way, it could be said that Cecelia chose the fantasy while Kenji chose reality.
Paradoxically, by choosing Gil Shepherd, Cecelia was actually choosing fantasy – the dream of a loving relationship with a handsome, real-life celebrity in the real world. She could not fathom how life would be in the world of the movie with the imaginary man, the character Tom Baxter. Rose seems to reminds us that a fantasy is a fantasy no matter how you look at it – that the perfect life is unobtainable or unthinkable in some measure.
Kenji could have had a good life with a real woman – the sweet and kind Toko – but perhaps he would always have wondered about or regretted Miyuki. Kenji decided to accept life with Miyuki and everything that came with it, including the harsh reality of having to live with a wife whom he loved but could never physically touch. Tonight suggests that reality is never perfect – whichever option Kenji picked would have been imperfect in some form. In choosing to accept one or the other and in going with it, Kenji found fulfilment.
Cecelia chased fantasy and lost. Kenji chose to face reality and won.
Or did Cecelia choose reality, while Kenji picked fantasy?
Real man and fantasy unfulfilled. Fantasy woman and reality lived out to the end. Perhaps what Rose and Tonight both do is demonstrate the similarity and dichotomy between the real and the ideal, and remind us that perfection is not at all easy to find.