‘I will never forget you,” lovers say to each other. The truth is that sooner or later, almost everyone is forgotten. In fact, many people you’ve met, from your kindergarten classmates to that sloshed guy at the bar last night, have forgotten you already. If you ran into them on the street today, they might be able to place your face, but probably won’t remember your name. That’s if you’re lucky; most likely they’ll just walk on by, oblivious.
That’s the dilemma, in extremis, of the heroine of Kei Horie’s bittersweet teen romance “Wasurenai to Chikatta Boku ga Ita” (“Forget Me Not”). Third-year high school student Azusa Oribe (Akari Hayami) is cute and vivacious, and nobody — not even her own father — can remember the least little thing about her.
Azusa goes through life constantly reintroducing herself to people, until she is ready to give up on the human race altogether.
|Rating||out of 5|
|Run Time||94 minutes|
Then a boy on a bicycle knocks her down and breaks through whatever negative force field surrounds her. The boy, Takashi Hayama (Nijiro Murakami), is in the same high school and grade, but a different homeroom class. He becomes her confidante, her defender and, finally, her boyfriend, vowing to never forget her.
With a script by Horie, based on Mizuho Hirayama’s novel of the same title, the film patches over its contradictions, such as how Azusa, the forever stranger, manages to walk into class every day without drawing the attention of her teacher and classmates. She is anonymous, not invisible. One imagines the poor girl doomed to do a jiko shōkai (self-introduction) daily, but we never see it.
Why has Azusa been condemned to such a maddening fate?
She tells Takashi that at the end of her second year of high school, “my family and friends began to forget me,” but that’s all the explanation we get. No sign that she somehow incurred the wrath of whatever gods might be out there.
But as do many Japanese movies with a “what if” premise, “Forget Me Not” aims to engage the emotions, not stimulate logical thought. And it fitfully does, mainly due to the casting of Hayami as Azusa.
A former member of the idol ensemble Momoiro Clover (now renamed Momoiro Clover Z), Hayami has been concentrating on acting and modeling since “graduating” from the group in 2011 at the tender age of 16.
Unlike fellow ex-idols Atsuko Maeda and Yuko Oshima, who were both former member of girl group AKB48, Hayami didn’t immediately segue into big roles in films with name directors, but had to struggle to establish her acting career, landing her first feature lead in Yakumo Saiji’s 2014 teen romance “Momose, Kocchi wo Muite” (“My Pretend Girlfriend”) as the superficially bold, romantically deluded and finally enigmatic title heroine.
Azusa is a somewhat simpler acting assignment by comparison, but Hayami again inhabits her character totally, giving her not just a breakable heart but an air of loneliness and wariness that Takashi’s vows of eternal remembrance never quite dispel. Azusa wants to hope it’s possible, but she has been wiped from one too many memory banks to easily believe that his is different.
The slight, shaggy-haired Takashi, as played by Murakami, who starred in Naomi Kawase’s 2014 drama “Futatsume no Mado” (“Still the Water”), looks and acts as though he’s 17 going on a puppy-doggish 12.
This kid is nice, well-meaning and can, at first, barely comprehend Azusa’s situation, let alone her emotions. He progresses as their relationship deepens, but not far beyond his noisy family and his dull-normal friends. When his relationship with Azusa is threatened, he naturally drifts back to the familiar and the ordinary. That’s where he belongs.
Not so for the sadly outcast Azusa, of course, though the film, as indicated by the Japanese title (literally, “There Was a Me Who Vowed to Never Forget”) belongs more to the earnest, unremarkable Takashi.
But Azusa is the one I’ll remember.
Fun fact: Perhaps best known abroad for his role as Gao Yellow in the 2001-2002 TV series “Hyakuju Sentai Gaorenja” (released in the U.S. as “Power Rangers Wild Force”), Kei Horie has transitioned successfully from acting to directing. His first film, “Glowing, Growing” (2001), a drama about a teen suicide pact, won kudos at the Mannheim-Heidelberg and Vancouver film festivals.