Hanamizuki [Flowering Dogwood - and tag-lined: May your love bloom for 100 years] will mostly likely not last 100 months in your memory. But that doesn’t mean you can’t watch and enjoy it for what it is – a sweet drama with appealing actors and actresses in situations that we all can identify with.
The star of the film is Yui Aragaki who is affectionately known as ‘Gakki‘ by her legion of fans. In this film she’s the central character. As the film opens it is in the early 1980′s and a small Japanese girl is reaching upward to the blossoms on the tree. Flash forward to 2005, and we find ourselves tracking a bus as it drives along the coast of Nova Scotia in Canada.
It is then, on this bus, that we meet Gakki as the now adult Sae Hirisawa. An English speaking young girl ask Sae some questions and we find out that she is headed for a lighthouse where she says, “… I am meant to be…”. The camera pans down and we see a framed photo in her hands.
The image is of a small child and a mother in the shadow of a lighthouse. Quickly the film flashes back to an earlier period in Sae’s life, this time it is 1996, and she’s a senior in High School, and there’s another lighthouse, this time in Eastern Hokkaido, Japan. So within the first 2 minutes of the film, we’ve covered a lot of years, going back and forth, and we know, for certain, that these lighthouses will figure prominently in this Japanese drama.
The story sets up with a High School senior on her way to take a college entrance examination. She’ll meet a boy on the train. He’s in school too – only he’s in a trade school for the fishing industry. The train hits a deer and is delayed. Sae’s going to miss her exam. One thing leads to another and they become friends. Eventually they’re going to have to separate because Sae does take the exam and passes and is accepted into a prestigious university in Tokyo. The boy follows his family heritage and like his father and his grandfather, he becomes a fisherman.
Sae heads off to school. She’s going to meet a photographer in Tokyo. The boy, Kouhei, played by Toma Ikuta, still pines for Sae. He heads down to Tokyo to see her. There’s a misunderstanding and some confusion. That’s the way things go in life and in dramas. Times passes. Sae can’t get a job in Tokyo. Kouhei marries a different girl. Eventually Sae gets a job in New York.
Imagine my surprise to see Yui Aragaki in a New York street scene. Or on the promenade in Brooklyn Heights. Sae heads back to Hokkaido for a friend’s wedding. Naturally she will run into Kouhei at the wedding. Her presence is going to put a strain on Kouhei’s marriage. Sae heads back to New York. Lo and behold the photographer appears in New York. And so it goes.
No need to tell you anymore. The film is beautifully shot in Japan, and New York, and Nova Scotia. Gakki will speak plenty of English in the film. She’s wonderfully attractive, as is all of the cast. They do manage to get you to invest emotionally in this story.
But the problem is that the story, while it has reversals of fortunes, deaths, separations, and plenty of what might be difficult moments for the audience, doesn’t quite hit its marks. It isn’t a case of being done badly, or poor acting – no everything is handled very well – only the script has been engineered to present you with dramatic moments that just miss being exhilarating, or don’t quite get you to cry.
I wanted this film to make people cry. I had hoped to enter a film world where there’s a strong payoff for your emotional investment. Only it isn’t up to it. Yes there are high points which you will make smile in expectation. There are low points – some of which you can see coming and others that do catch you by surprise.
I’ll say that I did like the film. The two hours and eight minutes were worthwhile, only not quite to what you might call memorable. The film ended on an upbeat and positive note only without a payoff.