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Tears will flow, apparently. This autumn’s plushest, gushiest melodrama is being promoted with a marketing boast that 92.8% of test audiences cried during screenings, a statistic as remarkable as it is hilariously specific.

Tetsu Maeda’s “And So the Baton Is Passed” is adapted from a 2018 novel by Maiko Seo that’s sold over 1 million copies in Japan. The story has undergone some significant modifications in its transition to the screen, though nobody seems to have paused to ask if the underlying message isn’t a bit odd.

Yuko (Mei Nagano) is a chirpy high school senior with a pasted-on smile, who lives with 30-something office worker Morimiya (Kei Tanaka), the latest in a series of step-parents. The pair have an affectionate, almost sibling-like relationship, which makes up for the fact that Yuko’s mother is absent and her school life is a total mess.

And So the Baton Is Passed (Soshite, Baton wa Watasareta)
Rating
Run Time 137 mins.
Language Japanese
Opens Now showing

It gets worse when she finds herself cajoled into accompanying the choir on graduation day. (She’s a keen pianist, just not a very good one.) She also has an unrequited crush on a more musically gifted student, Kento (Kenshi Okada) — and if you’d heard him play Rossini, you’d feel the same way, too.

In a parallel story, we meet a tear-prone youngster nicknamed Mitan (Kurumi Inagaki), whose widowed father (Nao Omori) marries a glamorous coworker, Rika (Satomi Ishihara), only to announce that he wants to move the family to Brazil for his job. When his daughter and new wife balk at the idea, Dad flies off anyway, leaving Mitan in Japan.

However, her stepmom proves to be a capricious creature — seemingly more interested in dressing up than paying the bills — and promptly starts looking for another partner.

“And So the Baton Is Passed” comes on like a modern-day fairy tale, though it’s far too quick to absolve its characters for some appalling parenting decisions. Hiroshi Hashimoto’s script goes to even greater lengths than the novel to let Mitan’s father off the hook for abandoning her, and beatify Rika’s shabby behavior.

Though the film’s PR reps were keen to avoid spoilers, attentive viewers should quickly deduce how the two tales intersect. The other “big reveal” is easy to guess, this being one of those movies where every key plot point is signposted an hour in advance.

The film is fortunate to have two stars as likable as Nagano and Tanaka. They have an easy rapport, and their scenes together are genuinely charming. Sporting an impressive array of haute couture outfits, Ishihara looks consistently fab, but she’s out of her depth in a role that was calling for a more complex, charismatic performer.

Maeda maintains a relentlessly perky tone during the first half, before aggressively upping the sentimentality. The film seems to reach a peak of mawkishness with a tear-streaked performance of graduation ceremony staple “Tabidachi no Hi Ni” (“On the Day of Departure”). At least half of the cast are clearly using eye drops to turn on the waterworks, and you can hardly blame them.

But that’s nothing compared to the final act, which hammers every emotional button it can find, while doubling down on the depressing message that a child is just something to be passed on, without any lingering accountability. If there were tears in my eyes at the end of the screening, it’s because I was gagging.

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