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Japanese romantic dramas often delve into the agonies and ecstasies of unrequited love, especially when the protagonist is a pure-hearted teen. Occasionally, though, they depict the tale of lovers who are made for each other, until they aren’t.

Based on a novel by Masahiko Katsuse, Hana Matsumoto’s “The End of the Pale Hour” follows the latter story arc with one big difference: A crucial fact is withheld until well into the film and, once revealed, it changes everything we thought we knew about the central couple.

Found in “The Sixth Sense” and its many imitators, this narrative strategy is by now all too familiar. But Matsumoto, a 23-year-old former actor making her second feature as a director, frames this story so that the reveal makes psychological sense. When we finally know what the protagonist knows but has long been trying to deny, everything clicks into place, like a Rubik’s Cube that is solved with one clever turn.

The End of the Pale Hour (Akegata no Wakamonotachi)
Rating
Run Time 116 mins.
Language Japanese
Opens Now showing

An unnamed college senior (Takumi Kitamura) has a love-at-first-sight encounter with a graduate student (Yuina Kuroshima) at a get-together for students who have landed post-graduation jobs. Leaving early, she texts him an invitation for a drink. He accepts and, with her taking the lead, their romance begins. Together they enjoy a whirlwind of fun and frolics, from a dazzling fireworks display to an explicitly depicted tryst at a love hotel, which is intoxicating for the shy, unworldly protagonist.

“Youth will be over soon,” his more experienced and also unnamed girlfriend tells him. “We need to enjoy ourselves.” But he wants to believe that his youth and his dream of love will survive his entry into the adult world.

And it does, kind of. He makes a friend in the upbeat Naoto (Yuki Inoue), a fellow new hire at a big printing company. With Naoto’s help, he moves into an apartment that he shares with his girlfriend, who has also entered the workforce. The three of them carouse joyfully into the wee hours, though in the cold light of day the protagonist finds himself in the general affairs section, whose jack-of-all-trades staffers spend their time doing mundane tasks. His ideas and ambitions thwarted by hidebound corporate bureaucracy, he drudges away year after year, sustained only by Naoto’s friendship and his girlfriend’s love. Then after he shares a blissful getaway with her at the seashore, she gives him some long-dreaded (and surprising to the audience) news.

The plot summary must end here, though the story intensifies, and not a moment too soon since up to this point the film has been a conventional romance with a couple who are more typical than not, if less idealized than usual. Also, the protagonist is a passive type who opts to drift through his days rather than ditch his dead-end job.

But as played by Kitamura, who proved his acting bona fides in Masaharu Take’s boxing drama “Underdog,” the protagonist turns out to be more complex and interesting than he first appears. The film then becomes a poignant story about not only growing older and ruefully wiser, but also stronger — though the fire of love at first sight has long since disappeared in the rearview mirror.

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