While some people end up finding the right partner, others spend their whole lives wondering why they didn’t shack up with their high-school crush instead. “All About March” follows the fortunes of a pair of schoolmates who were clearly made for each other, even if it will take them half a lifetime to realize it.

When we first meet Yayoi (the single-named Haru) and Taro (Ryo Narita) in 1986, she’s a forthright over-achiever planning to become a teacher, while he’s a soccer ace with dreams of playing in the World Cup.

On graduation day, Taro promises Yayoi that if she makes it to 40 without getting married, he’ll do the honors. It’s the kind of thing you only say to someone you’re secretly in love with and, indeed, the pair both quietly hold a candle for each other. The strength of their bond will be put to the test over the ensuing three decades, in a romantic saga with its finger permanently on the fast-forward button.

All About March (Yayoi, Sangatsu Kimi o Aishita Sanju Nen)
Run Time 150 mins.
Opens MARCH 20

Time marches on, but it’s always March when the film catches up with Yayoi and Taro. Veteran television screenwriter Kazuhiko Yukawa — who also directs — chronicles the passing years in gimmicky scene transitions that look like pages falling from a calendar, and fixating on dates displayed on screen to let viewers know when the action is happening.

The story’s breathless chronology suggests the director has a well-thumbed copy of David Nicholls’ “One Day” at home. He might have taken heed from that novel’s 2011 screen adaptation, which showed that this kind of telescoped structure doesn’t always make for good cinema.

It’s ironic, given Yukawa’s background, that “All About March” would probably have worked better as a series. Pared down to 110 minutes, the film rattles through its narrative beats so quickly that key scenes last barely any longer than they did in the movie’s spoiler-laden trailer. Sometimes it’s condensed to the point of hilarity, as when Taro experiences two life-changing events in the space of about 30 seconds.

It’s like scrolling through a childhood friend’s Facebook profile to see what they’ve been doing for their entire adult life. The script flattens any nuance and seldom puts in the work to earn its payoffs, treating even the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011 as little but a plot device.

It’s to the credit of the two leads that they manage to inject any depth into a film so determined to keep skimming across the surface. Both of them overdo it in their early scenes as teenagers, but manage to look convincingly worn later on. Yet there’s so little chemistry between them that you have to wonder if they did a screen test together before they were cast.

Despite finding space for three weddings and a funeral, Yukawa fails to squeeze a drop of genuine pathos from his story, yet still manages to contrive the most toe-curling finale imaginable. It’s the kind of date movie that will put you off dating. Films like this give love a bad name. They’re brought together by their ailing friend, Sakura (Hana Sugisaki), who, in a break from genre convention, is dying not from cancer, but from HIV contracted through a tainted blood transfusion. From her hospital bed, she urges them to stay just the way they are. Life, predictably, has other ideas.

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