The original novel by Ryo Asai released in 2010, features 6 intertwined short stories following 6 students and their inter-relationships. It is probably one of the most accurate depictions of social hierarchy of Japanese high school, and highlights the importance of club activities in defining a students self worth, and sense of belonging.
Hiroki who is close friends with Kirishima, a gifted athlete and popular student. Apathetically avoids training, or being a member of the baseball club, even though he would be the first student picked for the team. Fusuke is the reserve ribero (defensive position in volleyball) who is unexpectedly thrown into the spotlight when Kirishima is absent during an important tournament game. Aya is the leader of the brass band as the band prepares for a big recital. Ryoya is the head of the movie club which commands little respect from the other students begins to gain some recognition after winning a local film award. Mika is a member of the softball club, she is dealing with the death of her father and the effect this has on her and her step mother.
Quite often through out the novel references to music (aiko, Chatmonchy), movies (All About Lily Chou-Chou), fashion and current trends really seems to ground the novel in reality.
The novel was re-released in 2012 with an additional chapter from the point of Kasumi about her relationship with Ryoya, when they were junior high school students. The relationship forms an integral part of Ryoya's story earlier in the novel.
I wrote about the movie adaptation back in March. Directed by Daihachi Yoshida (吉田大八) , it won Best Picture and Best Director at the 36th Japanese Academy Awards. Featuring a superb cast of young actors and actresses including Ryunosuke Kamiki (神木隆之介) as Ryoya, head of the movie club, and Ai Hashimoto (橋本愛) as Kasumi, a member of the badminton club who was the subject of the added chapter in the 2012 re-release of the book. Some of the relationships in the movie have changed from the book, due to pacing. But I think the changes that have been made improve the cohesion of the story as a movie, even if I do prefer the additional insight provided by the more in depth back story in the novel.
The movie adaptation is most noticeable for changing the focus from the characters, to the pacing of the story. The same day's story is told from several characters' point of view before moving on to the next day's events. The complete story builds up slowly as the individual character's motivations and relationships are uncovered. This unusual telling of the story makes this a deserved winner of the Japanese Academy Award.