I need to make a confession. I am not the target demographic for the romantic drama anime I Want to Eat Your Pancreas. I am not a huge fan of anime, and I haven’t watched a lot of it. (The exceptions to that are One Punch Man, Fullmetal Alchemist, and Cowboy Bebop, as well as Sailor Moon when I was in middle school.) I am also not a huge fan of the romantic drama sub-genre of “beautiful young girls dying from a terminal illness and the boys who love them.” I have never felt comfortable with films that are that brazen in their attempt to manipulate my emotions. And I just do not really like crying. But I went in with an open mind, ready to cry and ready to possibly have my mind changed.
I Want to Eat Your Pancreas is based off of the popular award-winning novel by Yoru Sumino. It has also been adapted into a serialized manga and a live action film. The original subtitled version of this film was released in September of 2018, but I was able to attend the very first screening of the English-dubbed version, which is set to screen (courtesy of Aniplex) in select theatres on February 10th, 2019.
I Want to Eat Your Pancreas follows, through a series of flashbacks, an unnamed protagonist (voiced in the English dub by Robbie Daymond and listed in the credits as “Me,” though we learn his name at the very end… it becomes an important part of the plot so I won’t spoil it here) and his friendship with Sakura, a beautiful girl dying of a terminal illness they refer to as simply “pancreatic disease.” The young man is very stoic and often annoyed and overwhelmed by Sakura (voiced in the English dub by Erika Harlacher) and her bubbly personality. But after discovering her diary (which she has titled “Living with Dying”) and learning about her illness, he agrees to keep spending time with her, and during that time, their friendship grows deeper and deeper.
I’ll start with the good first. The animation and color are very beautiful. Everything is rendered in soft watercolors and pastels with a dominating theme of soft cherry pink surrounding Sakura, which is fitting because they make a point of explaining that Sakura means “Cherry Blossom.” The animation is lovely but not distracting, keeping the audience’s focus on the characters and their blossoming (pun intended) friendship.
There are also several laugh-out-loud moments throughout. Sakura is very frank and funny about her impending doom, but the funniest moment is when she stops an old woman from being mugged by kicking the mugger square in the balls. I also appreciated that their relationship (billed as romantic) takes some unexpected twists and turns, and never ends up quite where you think it will.
There are also some quite shocking moments of minor acts of violence that stand out sharply, because the colors and mood of the film are otherwise quite soft. This creates an uneasy undercurrent of tension that builds as these minor acts of violence escalate, ending in a surprise twist ending that no one will see coming. They also serve to add depth and complexity to the pastel colored world of our star-crossed pair, and in a way, remind me of the darkness present in the original versions of fairy tales by Hans Christian Andersen, or the Brothers Grimm.
I also thought the pacing and use of flashbacks were very well done, and the movie moved at a slow but steady pace. It lets you luxuriate in the moments between the two friends, often panning out to a beautiful sunset or closing in on small details like her foot folded under her knee. You know Sakura does not have a lot of time left, yet it makes you feel like they have all the time in the world.
Now for the not so good. How about that title? Apparently Sumino came up with the title first and then created a story around it.
It refers to Sakura’s obsession with organ meats and the medieval tradition of eating the animal (or human) organ of the organ inside yourself that is sick or injured. It also becomes a metaphor for having someone else’s spirit living on inside of you. Unfortunately, as interesting as the idea is, it just makes for a weird and clunky title.
I also found both of the main characters extremely obnoxious. “Me” is extremely mopey and taciturn. When pushed by Sakura to explain why he refuses to make friends or talk to people, he says it is because he has a hobby of deciding that everyone thinks he is boring. So why should he make an effort? I was expecting a deeper explanation of his anxiety and closed-off emotional state to be revealed… Did he have a troubled home life? Was he bullied when he was young? What was the trauma that caused this?
But no — his home life and relationship with his mom seemed great. His reasons for not wanting friends are very superficial and brought to my mind disturbing comparisons to the growing number of “incels” online. I never understood why Sakura persisted in trying to be his friend. He was so negative.
Sakura, on the other hand, is what I would dub a “cancer pixie dream girl.” She is loud, EXTREMELY bubbly, quirky, and loves to eat. Over half of the items on her bucket list are her eating large amounts of food. Because isn’t it SO funny when pretty, thin, girls love to eat? Ok, sarcasm mode off.
I have another confession to make. Another reason I have a hard time with this type of film is because it is so often told from the male perspective, and the story becomes not about the girl who is dying, but about how she in fact helps him learn to live his life better — or in the case of this film specifically, how to make friends. The story is not about her, but about how she served to fix him and his problems.
Also, I have a chronic illness, so when I see illness depicted in media, especially when it involves sick female characters, I tend to get very skeptical. And sure enough, because this is a fictional “pancreatic disease,” they are able to play fast and loose with the rules of her condition. She is full of energy, has a huge appetite, and you are made aware of her illness, only because she is constantly telling him that she is.
There are only two moments where the gravity of her situation is depicted on screen: at one point, on vacation, Sakura asks him to look through her bag to find something, and he finds all of her medications, The other moment is near the end when she is hospitalized for two weeks. Even in the hospital though, she is running around, dancing, jumping, ESCAPING FROM SAID HOSPITAL, and depending on the frame, maybe she does or does not have an IV in her hand. (The IV was a big pet peeve for me. If you are hospitalized, that IV stays put, and you are basically stuck to a surgical pole until they remove it. Good luck sneaking out of a hospital with one of those dragging behind you.)
Ultimately, this story was technically executed very well, even though it was about two characters that I found extremely unlikable and irritating for opposite reasons. But hey, opposites attract right? If you are looking for beautiful imagery, a bittersweet love story that might make you cry, and you are not a crotchety, irritable, old coot like me, you will probably enjoy I Want to Eat Your Pancreas.
I Want to Eat Your Pancreas will have its North American theatrical release in select theatres on February 7th, 2019, and the English dub will have its release on February 10th, 2019.