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A young man spends hours a day on a bench, staring out at the sea. Another young man, employed nearby, finds himself spending hours staring at the first. Before long, the two go from strangers to much more in the new anime film “L’Etranger De La Plage.”

Set on an idyllic Okinawan island, “L’Etranger De La Plage” is centered on the blossoming romance between Mio (Yoshitsugu Matsuoka) and Shun (Taishi Murata), two young men whose feelings for each other, and for those around them, are complicated by some serious parental issues.

The sullen Mio, in high school when the story begins, is reeling over the recent death of his beloved mother, which has left him an orphan. But despite his surly, anti-social nature, there’s something about him that attracts Shun, an aspiring novelist who works and lives at a seaside restaurant and inn. After a few awkward early encounters, Mio and Shun end up connecting emotionally — but, soon thereafter, Mio declares his intention to move off the island.

L'Etranger De La Plage (Umibe No Etoranze)
Rating
Run Time 59 min.
Language Japanese
Opens Sept. 11

Fast forward three years, and Mio suddenly returns, proclaiming his love for Shun … and they lived happily ever after — or so you might think. Shun’s complicated relationship with his sexuality, stemming from his parents’ disapproval, causes issues as the two young men navigate their new relationship. Things become more complicated when Shun’s ex-fiancee arrives from their hometown with the news that Shun’s estranged father is sick.

“L’Etranger De La Plage” is based on Kanna Kii’s manga of the same name. The manga, which ran in 2013 and 2014, has a lot going for it: It paints a subtle portrait of two damaged souls navigating a complicated romance and deals with Japanese attitudes toward same-sex relationships, all against an appealing palette of minimalistic, almost sketch-like character designs and backgrounds.

The anime version, directed by Akiyo Ohashi, is a faithful adaptation in the most literal sense: The story, characters and dialogue are all accurately replicated. But that harder-to-define piece of the puzzle, the atmosphere created when all of those elements are put together — call it the “soul” — is largely absent.

Consider the dialogue. While the actual words are largely lifted from the original, the way they’re delivered — with the actors giving it their all 100 percent of the time — drains them of their Okinawan cool. It was with little surprise that I learned the same actors had previously starred in an audio-only, radio play-style take on the manga. In that medium, in which you rely on the actors’ voices to form a mental picture of the scene, it makes sense for them to turn things up a notch. But with animation attached, it feels seriously overcooked.

It’s a similar story with the music, which leaves no room for viewers to decide for themselves how Mio and Shun are feeling.

There were, however, parts of “L’Etranger De La Plage” I enjoyed: The lush background art, for one, made me want to hop on a plane to Okinawa as soon as that’s OK to do again. And it’s nice to see LGBTQ relationships (especially ones that actually feel plausible) represented in big-screen anime. But in adapting the excellent manga, the team behind this film have proved once again that more is less.

In line with COVID-19 guidelines, the government is strongly requesting that residents and visitors exercise caution if they choose to visit bars, restaurants, music venues and other public spaces.

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