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Some films, though not connected as series or sequels, reflect and comment on each other, making one look better than the other. Such is the case for Takeshi Murayama’s first feature “Spaghetti Code Love” and Lim Kah Wai’s “Come and Go.” Both are ensemble films that attempt a group portrait, with Maruyama focusing on disaffected young people in Tokyo and Lim looking at Japanese and non-Japanese visiting and living in Osaka.

Seeing the former shortly after the latter, I was struck by how Lim’s characters speak and act with documentary-like authenticity, while Murayama’s actors seem as if they were performing in one of his music videos, for which he is an in-demand director. Also, where many of Lim’s Asians are struggling to survive on the bottom rungs in a foreign country, Maruyama’s angst-filled youth are natives of their society by birth and education, however alienated they may be.

It’s tempting to dismiss them as spoiled sufferers of First World problems, but it’s not so simple. A glamorous ad agency creative (Rikako Yagi) brutally shuts down the ideas of a new photographer (Nino Furuhata) in a front of a roomful of staffers, but when her diva-like takedown is roundly bashed on social media she faces the abrupt ruination of her career — and her shock and anger are real.

Spaghetti Code Love
Rating
Run Time 96 mins.
Language Japanese
Opens Nov. 26

Similarly, a city drifter (Hiroya Shimizu) with model looks and 5,000 Facebook “friends” sends out a plaintive call for help on his phone — and is answered with silence. That sounds believably painful enough, though he eventually gets a reply.

But the stories of some of the film’s 13 characters feel more concocted than real, such as an Uber Eats courier (Yuki Kura) who tells himself that he’ll forget a pop star he’s been obsessing over once he makes his 1,000th delivery. That, I thought, is a nice round number, but a silly amount of barely warm food.

Based on a script by Naomi Hiruta, the film begins with characters narrating their thoughts, some wispy or trite (“If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”), others blunt and personal (“Tokyo is where dreams come to die”). The overall effect, however, is superficial and uninvolving, as the film flits from one story to another, featuring two-dimensional types such as the bubbly teenage runaway or creepily happy housewife, rather than fleshed-out individuals.

After the opening scenes, however, the narrated thought bubbles focusing mostly on the past give way to occasionally intertwining stories developing more fully in the present. Some have funny moments, as when a middle school boy (Rintaro Mitani) irritably filling out a “life plan” form in a convenience store invents absurd scenarios for his future. Others, however, take a darker turn, as when the housewife (Kaho Tsuchimura) finds out that her dream of domestic bliss is an illusion.

What does it all mean? The title’s “spaghetti” refers to unstructured source code, which implies that its “love” is of the chaotic, unfulfilling sort. The film, however, is not only slickly stylish but eventually uplifting and energizing, as its stories reach their denouements. When “Come and Go” ended, I imagined its characters’ lives continuing in further installments. “Spaghetti Code Love,” by contrast, is more of a one-off, though for its director it’s the start of a promising film career.

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