Film / Reviews

'It's Boring Here, Pick Me Up': A rural road movie with no destination

by James Hadfield

Contributing Writer

What passes for countryside in Japan is often a vast sprawl of low-rise development: chain restaurants, big-box stores, gas stations and pachinko parlors. While there’s no shortage of films that have tried to capture the ennui of life in such areas, the results are often as uninspiring as the locations they depict.

The title of “It’s Boring Here, Pick Me Up” says it all, really, but director Ryuichi Hiroki’s portrait of provincial life is a more complex coming-of-age story than most.

Set over a 10-year period, it follows the fortunes of a group of graduating high school students in Toyama Prefecture as they make the awkward, often disappointing transition to adulthood. It’s based on a collection of interlinked stories by Mariko Yamauchi, which Hiroki and screenwriter Tomonari Sakurai have arranged into a loose, nonlinear narrative that’s constantly darting backward and forward in time, only gradually revealing how everything fits together.

It's Boring Here, Pick Me Up (Koko wa Taikutsu Mukae ni Kite)
Rating
Run Time 98 mins.
Language JAPANESE

The film starts in 2013, when Ai Hashimoto’s unnamed protagonist, a freelance writer listed as “Watashi” (“I”) in the credits, has returned to her hometown after a decade in Tokyo. While touring around ramen restaurants on an editorial assignment, she reunites with an old high school friend, Satsuki (Yurina Yanagi), who listens enviously to stories of life in the capital (even having a nervous breakdown is cool, apparently).

Soon enough, the film is flashing back to the pair’s schooldays and sketching in some of the intervening period. There are plenty of characters to keep track of, though as with his 2014 ensemble piece “Kabukicho Love Hotel,” Hiroki doesn’t have much trouble bringing all the threads together, even if the stories tend to be rather less lurid this time.

In the high school scenes, set in 2004, everybody seems to have a thing for Shiina (Ryo Narita), one of those charismatic, handsome underachievers who’s destined to peak at the age of 18. Asked what he plans to do after graduating, he replies that he’d like to stay as a high-schooler forever, and that’s certainly how his classmates will remember him.

Later on, we meet his former girlfriend, “Atashi” (“Me,” played by Mugi Kadowaki), who’s still trying to get over her old beau in 2008, while dating a rather less eligible alternative. And when “Watashi” and Satsuki have a chance encounter with another old classmate, Shinpo (Daichi Watanabe), in 2013, it starts to look like all of them have been quietly carrying a torch for Shiina.

When they aren’t in generic eateries, arcade centers or love hotels, the characters are generally in the car, although this is a road movie without any clear destination. Despite the film’s admirably snappy runtime, Hiroki’s preference for extended takes means that a few scenes drag out longer than necessary, and the ambition of his camera movements isn’t always matched by the execution.

He might have excised some of the flab and retained a little more narrative tissue. A few characters get forgotten, and Kadowaki — a far more engaging screen presence than Hashimoto — feels particularly underused.

Some viewers may wonder if the oblique storytelling really adds to much in the end. But it would take a hard heart not to be moved by the imaginative use of Fujifabric’s 2005 song “Akaneiro no Yuhi” in the closing scenes, when the film’s sketch-like narrative is brought into stark, poignant relief.