Screenwriter Yuji Sakamoto penned one of the ripest melodramas of the 2000s, “Crying Out Love in the Center of the World,” before deciding that writing for the small screen was more rewarding. After over a decade spent creating the kinds of dramas that give Japanese TV a good name (yes, they exist), he’s returned to cinema with his first original movie script.
It’s a fact sufficiently noteworthy for Sakamoto’s name to appear ahead of director Nobuhiro Doi’s in the publicity for “I Fell in Love Like a Flower Bouquet.” The latter is no dilettante, with an extensive TV resume as well as film credits including “Be With You” (2004) and “Flying Colors” (2015).
Yet this intimate, low-stakes romantic drama could almost be mistaken for a low-budget indie flick — assuming that viewers manage to overlook the impeccable production values and presence of two A-list stars, Kasumi Arimura and Masaki Suda.
|Rating||out of 5|
|Run Time||124 mins.|
They play university students Kinu (Arimura) and Mugi (Suda), who meet-cute in 2015 after missing their last train home, then spend five years trying to navigate the rocky passage into adulthood together. The story starts after the end of their relationship, so there’s no mystery about how things will pan out, and this knowledge lends a bittersweet tang to the extended flashback that follows.
Romance blooms in the idyll of undergrad life, as the pair discover that their cultural tastes are uncannily well-aligned. They segue easily from discussing favorite books and movies to making declarations of love, though their affection slowly withers as real-world responsibilities intrude.
First impressions to the contrary, it’s Mugi who tries to go straight, trading in his dream of becoming an illustrator for a sales job. Kinu is leery of both the thought of getting hitched and of devoting herself to a career she doesn’t enjoy. (An actress with slightly more edge than Arimura, who’s as wholesome as it gets, might have done a better job of selling this.)
Sakamoto seems to have been paying attention to younger filmmakers such as Rikiya Imaizumi, an avid chronicler of the vagaries of modern love. Like a veteran pop star pinching moves from voguish acts, “I Fell in Love Like a Flower Bouquet” is both less authentic and more straightforwardly enjoyable than the films it resembles.
It doesn’t suffer from the narrative longueurs of much Japanese indie cinema (Imaizumi’s included), or the delusion that it’s offering any deeper insights than it is. The script is snappily written, and uses Kinu and Mugi’s overlapping voiceovers to generate the odd moment of humor or dramatic irony.
Eager to prove its hipster cred, the film slips in references to everything from Tokyo indie-pop band Awesome City Club (who also make an appearance) to the Nintendo Switch and Netflix’s “Stranger Things 2.” It’s all very period-appropriate, while leaving the impression that Sakamoto was checking culturally relevant items off an Excel spreadsheet as he went along.
For all the surfeit of well-observed detail, Kinu and Mugi never feel like people you might actually meet. The couple’s attachment to physical media is the real giveaway: they may look like millennials, but they’re Generation X kids at heart. And the film itself is that strangest of creatures: a slacker movie that’s trying just a little too hard.
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