Love Stage!! is a Japanese BL movie about a famous actor who pursues his childhood crush from ten years ago. He's shocked to discover that his crush is actually another man, who only dressed up as a girl to play the female role in an acting gig. Nonetheless, this revelation does not deter his initial feelings, and he decides to go forward with a romantic relationship anyway.
Adapted from a manga, the story in Love Stage doesn't particularly translate well in a live-action movie. This film misses the mark with its shallowly developed romance and poor comedic timing. Plus, the awkward storytelling highlights all the flaws in its frivolous plot.
Love Stage Movie Summary
Around 1 hour and 30 minutes
Happy and upbeat
Yes, written by Eiki Eiki
Yes, Love Stage has a BL romance.
Ten years ago, Ryoma was a child actor who landed his first role in a famous wedding commercial. Although Ryoma got nervous during the filming, he was comforted by his on-screen partner. This lovely girl helped him to feel more relaxed. Since then, Ryoma has become a famous big-shot actor, but he still hasn't forgotten his childhood crush.
Ryoma arranges a re-enactment of the wedding commercial ten years later to meet his crush again, using the same actors as the previous ad. To his utter shock, Ryoma discovers that his childhood crush is actually a male. It turns out the original actress didn't show up for the filming, so Izumi's mom dressed him up as a girl to become the last-minute substitute.
The new wedding commercial is now a progressive ad about gay marriage. It was filmed and released with lots of positive publicity. Although Ryoma is disappointed by the identity of his crush, he has trouble getting Izumi off his mind after meeting him. His preoccupied thoughts have affected his acting performance, troubling him whenever he films any romantic scenes. He just can't stop thinking about Izumi.
Meanwhile, Izumi is a university student who has no interest in acting. He only participated in filming the wedding commercial after being tempted with a gift from his brother. Izumi's brother Shogo is dating his manager Rei, who sees a lot of star potential in Izumi after the popularity of the wedding ad. Rei wants Izumi to start an acting career, but Izumi is a geeky otaku more interested in publishing his first manga instead.
A troubled Ryoma pays Izumi a surprise visit to his home. The professional actor ambushes Izumi with a sudden kiss, hoping this will confirm his feelings. The next day, Ryoma apologizes profusely for his inappropriate actions, hoping to start a friendship with Izumi on a much better note. Touched by his sincerity, Izumi keeps in contact with his new friend. The two of them forge a bond that gradually becomes romantic.
Love Stage Movie Trailer
Love Stage Cast
Ryoma Hiroki Nakada (仲田博喜) Hiroki Nakada Instagram
Ryoma is a popular actor who can't forget about his childhood crush from ten years ago. He is shocked to discover his crush is another man, but his romantic feelings still didn't go away upon the revelation. Although Ryoma makes a bad impression at first, he eventually becomes friends with Izumi. Ryoma's lively and vibrant personality means that he's very enthusiastic in his interactions with Izumi.
Izumi Mahiro Sugiyama (杉山真宏) Mahiro Sugiyama Instagram
Izumi is a university student very interested in otaku culture. He's working on his first manga and aspires to have his work published. Izumi has no interest in acting, even though his brother's boyfriend Rei sees star potential in him. Everyone in Izumi's family comes from an acting background, including his celebrity parents. His older brother Shogo is also a rock star.
Shinichi Wago (和合真一)
Takahiro Yumoto (湯本貴大)
Ryuki Yoshimura (吉村龍希)
Yura Sasaki (笹木祐良)
Love Stage Movie Review
Movie Review Score: 4.4
Love Stage is a mediocre BL movie without much going for it. The story is weak, the acting is poor, the couple is mismatched, and the romance is uncomfortable. There isn't a lot that I can actually recommend. I guess Love Stage is kinda coherent and watchable for something that only lasts 90 minutes. This isn't the worst BL film I have watched, but it certainly isn't the best either.
I haven't read the Love Stage manga or watched its anime adaptation, but it's hard to imagine this movie doing the original story any justice. Many of the scenes are so awkwardly executed that it gives me second-hand embarrassment. I can imagine all the exaggerated humour or the lighthearted romantic moments translating better in a manga format, but the goofiness falls flat with real-life actors.
The low-budget feel in this film is the least of its worries, not when Love Stage also has to contend with over-the-top acting and nonexistent chemistry between the main couple. Evidently, all the actors were instructed to give BIG WACKY REACTIONS for comedic effect. However, the exaggerated acting doesn't work to the movie's advantage, making the characters too strange and off-putting. They don't feel like real human beings giving authentic reactions. Instead, they're like theatrical performers told to distort their facial expressions and wave their arms maniacally.
The romance between Ryoma and Izumi is superficial without any substance. Ryoma insists that he's in love based on a childhood memory from ten years ago, before the two characters even had any meaningful interaction together as adults. Izumi develops romantic feelings seemingly out of thin air, or was it because Ryoma complimented his drawings that one time? This shallow romance isn't helped by the broad characterization, the lack of chemistry, or the nonconsensual encounters played for laughs.
If you don't mind the cringe factor, Love Stage is a campy and cheerful movie that doesn't feel too emotionally heavy. As long as you keep your expectations low, I guess there are a few moments that may be a little interesting, even if they never get explored with any depth. From the dumb narrative to the miscast actors, Love Stage falls terribly short in so many aspects of quality. It's impossible to call this a decent movie by any standards.
I don't wanna diss the manga before reading it, but honestly, I thought the premise in Love Stage was pretty dumb. We're supposed to believe this famous actor is still hung up on a childhood crush from ten years ago, although he only met this girl once and didn't even realize she's a guy. After meeting each other, Ryoma develops such intense romantic feelings for a stranger he barely interacts with. I just find the whole set-up of this love story so bizarre. 😓
The plot is already shaky to begin with, but it doesn't get much better as the movie progresses. It's hard to immerse myself into the perplexing fictional universe of Love Stage, where all the characters are weird as hell. They have unrealistic reactions to everything that happens around them. I don't mind wacky humour and ridiculous antics when they are done right, but Love Stage is not funny enough to pull off the offbeat comedy, making the movie feel awkward instead.
I guess I kinda liked the storylines with Izumi's manga and Ryoma's kissing scandal, but these plots were never explored deeply beyond what you see on the surface. Love Stage gives us a very shallow take at repetitive stories that we've seen so many times before. There are no delightful surprises or unexpected twists in this movie. The narrative in Love Stage just feels linear, predictable, and completely flat.
Ryoma and Izumi
The relationship between Ryoma and Izumi is just too shallow to be believable. I'm just not convinced these two characters have developed feelings for each other based on the scenes we've seen. It doesn't help that Ryoma comes across as either really creepy or really preposterous. I don't find him endearing when he's trying to kiss a sleeping Izumi or getting nosebleeds after seeing him naked. No, dude, that's just weird behaviour.
I don't understand Izumi's random attraction towards Ryoma either. At least Ryoma had that whole childhood crush as an excuse, no matter how ludicrous it might be. Izumi just caught feelings all of a sudden, seemingly because Ryoma showed an interest in his manga. Their whole relationship has such a flimsy foundation, making it difficult to immerse in their scenes as a couple.
Rei and Shogo
I kinda like the relationship between Rei and Shogo, but it's hard to tell when this couple barely got any focus. I guess they seemed okay from the few seconds that I saw them together. However, there just isn't enough content to build a ship.
Personally, I'd like to have seen more of Rei and Shogo over the main couple, because at least these two boyfriends had a healthier relationship dynamic.
I didn't enjoy the over-the-top acting in Love Stage, which consisted of exaggerated expressions, wild gestures, and eccentric behaviour. I know this is supposed to be a manga adaptation, but it's strange watching these human beings behave like cartoonish caricatures. This cast isn't skilled enough to pull off the comedic acting and they made the scenes really cringey to watch.
I also don't sense any chemistry between the main couple. Part of the problem is the casting. Ryoma and Izumi are supposed to be a bit closer in age, but it's evident that Ryoma's actor is older than Izumi's actor by a lot. Even looking past the age difference, these two mediocre actors just aren't strong enough to sell a poorly written romance.
There's a happy ending in Love Stage, where Ryoma and Izumi openly admit their relationship to the media. This ending is okay and I like the courage it takes for a famous celebrity to come out in public like this. I also liked that there wasn't too much agony over the decision. Ryoma and Izumi simply announced that they were dating, and the paparazzi happily asked them fluffy softball questions. There was no drama over an actor coming out, and that's the way it should be in an ideal world.
The problem is that I didn't care about what happened to these characters all that much. Their relationship sucked, it didn't build up enough momentum, and there wasn't a lot at stake. I wasn't interested in the plot or the romance for the entire movie, so it's hard to give a damn about the ending.
Who is the best character?
Although stereotypical, Izumi is a lovable otaku with charm and likability throughout the movie. He went through a relatable journey about publishing his manga, and I was rooting for him even when he failed. It's nice to see a character work towards his dreams.
Is there any nudity?
Izumi has a few shirtless scenes in the Love Stage movie, although you don't see much other than a few glimpses of skin here and there. Supposedly, there's a scene where he walks out completely naked from the bathroom, but none of it is shown on screen.
Are there any triggers?
There were a couple of incidents where Ryoma acted inappropriately around Izumi. First, he tried to force Izumi to kiss him, even though no consent was given. Then, there was a weird scene where Izumi fell asleep and Ryoma sneaked in a couple of kisses. Afterwards, there was one other scene where Ryoma tried to get Izumi to return home by intimidating him sexually.
Ryoma is constantly tiptoeing around ~the line~ throughout the movie. His behaviour would've come across as creepier if the character wasn't already so ridiculous. Half the time, this guy doesn't even act like a normal human being, so his offensive behaviour isn't all that different from his ordinary behaviour. I was weirded out by him throughout the entire movie.
What's the best part?
Some of Izumi's storylines were decent. I enjoyed watching him work on his manga, along with the various struggles in his publishing journey. Even though the story is pretty basic and generic, I still found it engaging enough to watch.
One of the interesting scenes in the movie occurred after Izumi got negative feedback about his manga. He was upset, discouraged, and feeling really down on himself. At his lowest moment, Izumi told Ryoma to do whatever he wants sexually in bed, because he doesn't care about anything bad that happens to him. However, Ryoma doesn't go through with it and just leaves him alone in the end.
This was perhaps the most emotionally complex scene in the movie, exploring Izumi's self-esteem as he hits rock bottom. The moment was rife with tension and it might be one of the few times that I actually paid close attention to the movie. That scene was very successful and I liked it a lot.
What would you change?
Tone down the acting
I really wished they dialled down the over-the-top acting by several notches. Just have the actors speak and behave normally, because none of them can pull off the intended comedic effects. It's really jarring when a character would suddenly make some OUTLANDISH EXCLAMATION in a cartoonish way. I already had difficulty immersing myself in the dumb plot, and this type of theatrical acting made the viewing experience even more difficult.
Love Stage Adaptations
Love Stage 2014 anime series Anime review
The original Love Stage!! is a manga written by Eiki Eiki. Before it was turned into a live-action movie, the manga was also adapted into a ten-episode anime series. I'm happy to report that the anime series is better than the movie adaptation. Benefiting from the longer length and episodic structure, the storytelling is more extensive in the anime. I can actually understand what the characters are thinking instead of being totally confused!
Unfortunately, the Love Sick anime also comes with its own set of problems. The nonconsensual relationship dynamic between Izumi and Ryouma gets highlighted more prominently during the anime. Released back in 2014, it relies on many toxic BL tropes that might feel very dated and offensive. The anime might be better than the movie in terms of storytelling, but the plot is still deeply flawed. Plus, it handles sensitive topics irresponsibly.
Love Stage 2022 series Drama review
Love Stage has a second live-action adaptation two years after the movie's release. This 2022 Thai BL drama has ten episodes in total. The seven-hour series follows a similar plot as the film, but significantly expands upon the characters and relationships. There are several changes made in the story, some better than others.
In my opinion, the live-action drama is arguably the best version of the three remakes. The contest is between the anime and the series, whereas the movie is the worst adaptation without argument. The drama is flawed and problematic, but at least the narrative is coherent most of the time. I can't reassure you that the Love Stage series is good enough to be enjoyable. However, I'm sure it is better than this film remake.