If the quality of a tearjerker movie is gauged by how much it makes you cry, then Orange will score high on that front. I teared up a lot. Unfortunately, it isn’t because of the story but the subjects it touches on, which i am weak against: family, friendship, and regrets (among other things). So, if you ask me if i personally think it’s a great movie, my honest answer will be no.
Orange opens with 16-year-old Takamiya Naho (Tsuchiya Tao) receiving a letter from her 26-year-old self. In it, her future self admits to having a lot of regrets she wishes her teenage self would not experience. For that reason, future-Naho lists the events that are going to happen from that point onward together with what she hopes present-Naho would do differently. However, the degree of details included within the dates varies; sometimes, what, why, and how are clearly defined; sometimes, only what is given. Naturally, she is skeptical at first — receiving something from the future is far-fetched — but after seeing a couple of things proceed as spelled out in papers, she begins to believe it and tries to take a different action from what future-Naho said she did back then.
It is not long before we learn the driving force behind future-Naho’s writing: premature death of Naruse Kakeru (Yamazaki Kento), the transfer student she had a crush on. Her biggest regret was her inability to save him. The truth behind his passing is disclosed around midway point of this two-hour movie, though i wonder if it’s supposed to be a shocking news since it’s quite predictable. Kakeru is a quiet but sweet guy that nobody could have guessed he is fighting a losing battle against an inner turmoil since Day 1. It’s not the friends’ fault for not noticing this, since he keeps his feelings and troubles to himself, but equipped with future knowledge, they all work toward preventing history from repeating itself.
I’d say the plot is really simple and straightforward despite the fantasy element. Because there seems to be no rules regarding the parallel worlds. There are neither repercussions of knowing the future (and altering the past) nor certain events that are bound to happen no matter what. What’s new is nonexistent butterfly effects between two timelines. Present-Naho initially ticks the boxes so that future-Naho would have fewer lingering regrets, yet unbeknownst to her, regardless of her efforts, only her future will change — the situation future-Naho is in will remain as is. This happening matches the theories about time travel and parallel world explained in one of her classes. So, despite connected by the letters, present and future are two separate entities. Because, well, if Kakeru were alive, the motivation to change future’s past would not exist in the first place. Right?
That aside, the road to the turning point follows a familiar trajectory used in, say, Proposal Daisakusen. The lead is changing past moments one by one so by time it reaches the critical point, those little things add up to become a big enough thing which then warrants a turnaround. However, i feel like the build-up was a lot neater and more impactful in ProDai; here, it felt rather forced. You could tell which words would be “it”.
Albeit many predictable developments, the movie has its twists too. The biggest one is probably the revelation that Naho isn’t the only one sent a letter. Suwa Hiroto (Ryusei Ryo) is too. In fact, it was him who brought the idea up. This bit, however, raises a burning question as to how the letters could reach the intended recipients when they were buried and present-Naho/Suwa didn’t dig ’em up. It might be trivial yet is crucial to the story that i’d rather have it explained. The same goes for why it is titled “Orange”, why Kakeru likes Naho when she is pretty similar to the other girls besides the fact that she IS the lead, or why they* are hell bent on saving him. Yes, they’re friends, but we didn’t see how close they were, or how important they were to him — the romance angle took a big portion of the movie’s run that the friendship beats were sidelined. The other three also weren’t aware like Naho/Suwa so they went along with the plan because they believed the two.
*) “They” here refers to Naho, Suwa, Chino Takako, Murasaka Azuka, and Hagita Saku. The last three didn’t appear often in both timelines so i couldn’t describe much about their characters other than Takako (Yamazaki Hirona) seems mature, Azu (Shimizu Kurumi) cheery, and Hagita (Sakurada Dori) a terse bookish.
Aforementioned, the fivesome had little to do with Kakeru’s demise although they blamed themselves for letting him die. I mean, how would they know about his mother, birthday, or sorrow if he didn’t tell them, or clammed up even when they ask? There are things we are privileged to know only in hindsight anyway. Nevertheless, the power of reaching out and being there for someone when they needed it the most is so profound the effect can be life-changing. In the same vein, it’s equally important to ask for help when things get too much for you to handle alone. The message is quite deep and i wish the execution were smoother around the edges to convey that.
My biggest pet peeve about Japanese dramas and movies is its pacing, and Orange is no exception. It is sooo slow i ended up watching in sped-up mode and frankly didn’t notice any issues with the dialogues, mood, and whatnots. The next one is the characteristics of their female lead, which largely fall under the awkward, meek, timid, girly type. I might be fine with Naho’s dithering in ‘normal’ setting, cuz when she’s wise to future events and the fact that she’ll definitely regret it if she doesn’t do it, you’d expect her to be way more assertive and a lot less dilly-dallying. The other major turn off is Tsuchiya Tao’s high pitched voice. That would probably make Naho cute but also make her delivery flat and sound fake.
I checked this out for Yamazaki Kento since i kept seeing him promoting his acting projects one after another and was curious about his acting chops since he appears pretty shy and easily bullied in real life. And i gotta say that’s the highlight. Kakeru is a complex character and Yamaken portrays each emotion ably.
And while i wasn’t swept up by the story, i was by its theme. Because there are a lot of advice i’d tell my 16-year-old self too. After all, the bigger regrets are not the things we did but the things we didn’t do when we had the chance. “In the end, we only regret the chances we didn’t take, the relationships we were afraid to have, and the decisions we waited too long to make.” (Lewis Carroll)
Director: Hashimoto Kojiro
Production: Toho, 2015
Cast: Tsuchiya Tao, Yamazaki Kento, Ryusei Ryo, Yamazaki Hirona, Sakurada Dori, Shimizu Kurumi
Genre: Teen melodrama, Friendship, Fantasy, J-movie