Coming-of-age movies are always popular because their target audience knows the agonies of adolescence firsthand. You may feel superior to the klutzy protagonists, but you can relate. If getting through the movie itself is agony, though, you may feel more like escaping.

“Around the Table,” Soushi Matsumoto’s coming-of-age film, is not excruciating, but it is oddly weightless, with equal attention given to the problems of the wishy-washy protagonist and the lovingly photographed meals the characters consume with delight.

The film was backed by Hokuoh Kurashi no Doguten, a popular Japanese website marketing North European-style lifestyle goods that plentifully decorate the house where the protagonist spends her summer break and the restaurant her celebrity mother runs. Likewise, the art school where she takes a college prep course could feature in a glossy magazine piece about stylishly retro corners of Tokyo, and her nervous maiden plunge into the adult world is a party held by a trendy design firm. So the film is a kind of wish fulfillment for those whose idea of professional heaven-on-earth is to work for Hokuoh Kurashi no Doguten (Translation: Northern Europe Lifestyle Tools), or somewhere similar.

Around the Table (Aobake no Teburu)
Run Time 104 mins.
Language Japanese
Opens June 18

The film centers on Yuko (Aino Kuribayashi), a perky teenager who suddenly pops up at the aforementioned home of Haruko (Naomi Nishida), an old friend of her mother’s. There she meets Riku (Uta Yorikawa), Haruko’s cute, shy son, who is two years younger and thus not boyfriend material, as well as Meiko (Haruka Kubo) and Sorao (Shugo Oshinari), a young couple staying more or less permanently at Haruko’s invitation.

Expectations for a quirky comedy about this unconventional menage are quickly dashed when Yuko enters art school and meets Akane (Miku Uehara) and Yudai (Kanata Hosoda), the prep course’s star pupils. Though Yuko finds herself at the bottom of the class talent pool, the outspoken, red-haired Akane and the excitable, wide-eyed Yudai both befriend her and all seems to be going swimmingly.

Yuko, however, lives in the shadow of her mother, Tomoyo (Miwako Ichikawa), a famous lifestyle guru and chef who has micromanaged every aspect of her daughter’s existence. Intending to escape her mother’s all-encompassing influence, Yuko signed up for the course — but soon doubts whether art is her calling. In fact, in a sequence intended to be funny, we see that she has tried and failed at everything from skateboarding to becoming a YouTuber. With no identity of her own, she keeps mentioning her well-known mother to all and sundry, which quickly becomes annoying.

Yet it’s hard to hate the uncertain heroine or indeed any of the characters, who are all good at heart and nice to a fault. Even Tomoyo proves to be less of a maternal terror than a well-meaning, if driven, sort who wants the best for her daughter. She even forgives Haruko when her former pal pays an unexpected visit after a gap of two decades and immediately unloads her pent-up jealousies and resentments.

Versatile veterans Nishida and Ichikawa give this lightweight film moments of dramatic tension, as well as welcome comic relief from the adolescent angst around them. These moments, however, are all too brief, as the two women dive nostalgically into their mutual past via old memorabilia.

Are reproductions available on the Hokuoh site? Given that so much else in the film is, why not?

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.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.