After all these years of living in east Asia, I still don’t understand the popularity of sappy Japanese romance movies, especially the teenage ones that usually include an adorable cat and where the actors are pushing 30. Director Nobuhiro Doi’s/土井裕泰 (FLYING COLOURS/ビリギャル) latest film with an unmemorable title, WE MADE A BEAUTIFUL BOUQUET, doesn’t push the limits of believability quite that far but his two stars, Masaki Suda/菅田将暉 and Kasumi Arimura/有村架純, who are both 28 (and born just ten days apart, apparently), are still being asked to play 22-year old university students.
It’s 2020 and three young couples are separately enjoying their afternoon snacks at a Tokyo restaurant. The man of one couple and the woman of another each stand up at the same time to speak to the third couple and realize that the other is there, probably wanting to say the same thing. An embarrassed look passes between them and the story flashes back to five years earlier when the pair, Mugi (Suda) and Kinu (Arimura), are in their final year of university. When the strangers each miss their last train home, the pair decide to kill time at an all-night bar. There, they learn that they have a lot in common. They both like the same mangas, the same movies and the same art exhibitions. They even wear the same style of shoes. They’re also both highly naïve for university seniors (okay, this is Japan), with Mugi wanting to become a well-paid commercial illustrator and Kinu going wherever the flow happens to take her. After a few dates and bonks, the pair decides to live together and they find themselves a respectable starter flat with a view in the suburbs. (They both come from well-off families who provide them with a healthy living allowance each month.) After graduation, they both enter the workforce with Mugi becoming a salesman and Kinu taking a job as an office clerk/bookkeeper. In company-centric Japan, the couple finds themselves slowly pulling away from each other as adult demands replace youthful dreams.
Doi takes a ridiculously long time to tell this story of Millennial puppy love and what happens when the puppy isn’t so cute anymore. With a running time of just over two hours, you might think you’re watching their relationship unravel in real time. Quite sadly, or perhaps a propos for that generation, when Mugi and Kinu finally decide that their relationship might really be over, neither says to the other what they should say: 1. “I love you.” and 2. “What can I do to fix this?” No, both of them are so completely self-absorbed that neither can give of him or herself to the other for just one minute. With such shallow people, how are audiences supposed to feel any empathy for them? These two clearly need to break up if only to grow up. But they don’t… at least not right away, leaving audiences to endure even more of their immature behaviour before the story returns to that restaurant in 2020.
To screenwriter Yuji Sakamoto’s/坂元裕二 credit though, he frames the couple’s relationship around whatever is popular at the time, from manga installments to video game editions to Netflix series. That “Where you were when such-and-such came out?” structure gives the story a strong sense of time and is totally relatable for any age. On the other hand, there’s another scene where Kinu wakes up with her head in her boss’ lap after having just one drink. Did he just roofie her? We’ll never know because the incident never went anywhere. Needless to say, this film is far from being a winner… unless you’re into sappy Japanese romance movies that include an adorable cat and where the actors are pushing 30.
WE MADE A BEAUTIFUL BOUQUET opens in Hong Kong’s cinemas next Thursday (June 10th).
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