This might sound like damning with faint praise but, Love and Goodbye and Hawaii is a simple, nicely shot tale of a woman slowly coming to the realisation that a relationship with her ex-boyfriend may be well and truly dead so she msut face the decision of whether to resurrect it or move on.
The aforementioned woman is Rinko (Ayu Ayano), a bespectacled twenty-something who works in an office. She has been living with her ex-boyfriend Isamu (Kentaro Tamura), a graduate student, for three years. Indeed, the two have chosen to continue to live together even after they broke up because their situation is comfortable. Although they separate their shared bedroom with a rack of clothes and sleep in different futons on opposite sides of the room, they interact with each other like a regular couple. Meals are a friendly affair complete with conversation that drifts between academia, work, and their past relationship. They exercise together at her behest as she struggles with a diet. He asks for advice about his thesis, which he struggles with. She cooks for them, her meals proving to be popular with Isamu when she puts effort into them.
Rinko justifies staying in Isamu’s apartment as a way of saving money while she looks for somewhere else to move to but friends, family and the audience will see through that as an excuse. She still loves Isamu and these feelings are brought into sharp relief when Rinko finds out that a young student who studies with Isamu named Kasumi (Aoi Kato) has feelings for him and it seems Isamu is becoming attracted to her. Rinko wakes up to the tough decision of whether to let Isamu go or fight for her love.
Premiering in the Osaka Asian Film Festival’s Indie Forum section, Love and Goodbye and Hawaii went on to become the winner of the JAPAN CUTS Award, which is given to a title that “displays the most exciting and unique vision.” Despite its unwieldy title (a direct translation from the Japanese), Western audiences might wonder what makes it so unique what with its rather humdrum storyline. Indeed, one might be forgiven for ducking out on this if faced with a busy schedule at a festival but Love and Goodbye and Hawaii is charming, a complete package of good direction, musical choices and a strong central performance all of which make it a pleasant 94 minutes.
Working from his own script, director Shingo Matsumura ensures that the story features enough time spent with the couple and their friends and family to round them out as individuals. Isamu is charming in his geeky way, a gentle and sensitive soul who is pretty sociable when he is not lost in books about ancient poets. Tamura imbues him with a guardedness and slight sentimentality that makes the moments when he and Rinko share fun and laughter together a seeming moment of bright and honest clarity in the story and this keeps the audience guessing as to his true feelings about his former love.
The film, however, rests on the loveable performance of Ayano, a relatively new actress, who we follow on a journey from lackadaisical in love to focussed like a laser beam as she comes to realise she risks losing Isamu. Pitched somewhere between hapless and helpless, she slowly discovers that her purpose is to get or get over Isamu through encounters with others. These encounters run from the often-seen drunk female whose moment of inhibition puts things in perspective, to Rinko’s younger sister who matter-of-factly laments her older sister’s situation. From Rinko’s early blasé behaviour borne by blindness to the passage of time, to her final determined push, Ayano’s cute face and gentle mannerisms carry proceedings and engagingly show strong signs of emotional developments which makes the film worth watching.
Her loving gestures of care which she shows to Isamu without him realising, her constant redefinition of the word maybe when asked about the state of her feelings for her ex show – sometimes it means something close to never in love and at others it means close to extremely in love – all rock against the craggy emotional shore of her inability to get over him while it is clear that Isamu might be drifting away from her. The look of contentment on her face, often shown in close-ups, is enough to tell this is the state of affairs, which is why the moments when Ayano has realisations that the flow of time is separating them are affecting. Times when she looks over old photographs of their courtship and discovers Kasumi’s love letter are the sparks of realisation that cause startling looks of genuine pain to cross her face. It hurts her and that feeling will be caught be anyone in an audience who has been in a similar situation or anyone capable of empathy. She won’t give up without a fight and this leads to some interesting “confrontations” with both Kasumi and Isamu. This being a film about gentle people, it plays out in a low-key way but the resolution is quietly beautiful.
This traipse through Rinko’s everyday love-life has the feel of Naoko Ogigami’s Rentaneko (2012) or Daihachi Yoshida’s Permanent Nobara (2010). Both films feature female leads struggling to overcome the inertia of loves lost and cloudy aspirations and both have a similar laid-back tone that leads to a powerful ending. While Love and Goodbye and Hawaii isn’t in the same league as those two in terms of emotional punches, the way it has been put together for the screen suggests that director Shingo Matsumura has the potential to get there.
The airy spring time cinematography from Raita Minorita gives a gentle and caring tone for the film which clearly respects its characters whom audiences will be allowed to empathise with. The overall feeling is calm despite the potential for emotional turmoil. It feels true to life but some may want something more exciting from the plot but as we watch Rinko be sweetly embraced by the sun as she cycles off at the end, audiences will surely be charmed by Ayano’s winning performance and they will want to embrace her as well. Love and Goodbye, indeed. What about Hawaii? That’s where happy people get married, or didn’t you know?
This review has been cross-posted at Genkinahito.
Love and Goodbye and Hawaii is showing as part of JAPAN CUTS 2017 on Sunday July 16 at Japan Society at 4:15pm. Tickets can be purchased from the Japan Society website.