A troubled young man seeks fulfilment in hip hop glory but his self-involved insecurities frustrate his dreams in Takafumi Tsuchiya’s stylish coming of age drama Flowers and Rain (花と雨, Hana to Ame). Inspired by the album of the same name by real life rapper SEEDA, Tsuchiya’s film finds its conflicted hero consumed by a sense of internalised rage and cultural displacement as he struggles to find his place in conformist Japan after a childhood spent abroad realising only too late that he was not the only one struggling and that his self-absorbed inferiority complex has cost him dearly.
Hakuhiro (Sho Kasamatsu) spent his early childhood in London where his father was working at the time. Whilst there, he was sadly subject to common racist microaggressions from other children who tried to put him down by showing off to their friends with ugly playground chants. Nevertheless, Hakuhiro and his older sister Saki (Ayaka Onishi) profess that they prefer living in the comparatively less stressful UK than in conformist Japan and it is indeed Saki who seems to have the most difficulty when they are forced to move back after the financial crisis. She is determined to return to the UK for university, but as we later see ultimately remained in Japan. Hakuhiro meanwhile has become a sullen and distant teen, bullied by the high school delinquents for being a returnee student. He gives them the same treatment as he gave the playground bullies, ignoring them until he is able to ignore them no more. Mostly he just keeps to himself, listening to hip hop on cassette via his retro walkman and vintage headphones.
Hakuhiro dreams of becoming a top rapper by rapping in English, but a small circle of likeminded friends including a fellow high school student, Aida, are unconvinced. Though he actually comes from quite a wealthy family and still lives at home supported mainly by his parents, Hakuhiro wants to rap about the same things as his heroes such as street life and social oppression, none of which rings true to those around him who are painfully aware that he is somewhat uncomfortably appropriating the struggles of others and pretending to be something he’s not. He blames his friend Aida for his lack of success in not writing good enough beats for his words and Japan as a country for failing to “get” true hip hop. His sense of insecurity eventually tips over into belligerent arrogance that sees him taken in by an unscrupulous promoter who allows him to humiliate himself during a live rap battle with his high school bullies resulting in the probable end to a credible career as an underground rapper.
To get more experience of what he sees as “the life”, Hakuhiro has also gotten himself involved with drugs firstly by growing cannabis and then by trafficking cocaine on behalf of a shady street gang. His relationship with his family has obviously suffered and though he’s nominally gone back to uni he doesn’t seem very invested in his studies. Saki, herself troubled in repeatedly failing to pass the final exams for her MBA, tries to talk some sense into him but Hakuhiro repeatedly fails to notice that she is also in distress and trying to tell him something important. A brush with the law pushes him back towards the straight and narrow, but does not exactly humble him and he is still blind to the various ways in which his self-absorbed and arrogant behaviour ruins his relationships and with them his chance of ever making it in the music business.
Only tragedy finally awakens him to his failings. As Aida had tried to tell him, his problem was a refusal to face reality as reflected in the inauthenticity of his lyrics. If he wants to make it as an artist he’ll have to face himself from a position vulnerability and give up the macho posturing of his adolescence for something a little more “real”. Drawing inspiration from SEEDA’s life and music, Tsuchiya is unafraid to allow his hero to appear unsympathetic even while emphasising the lingering traumatic echoes of a sense of displacement and rejection that prevents him from stepping into adulthood with a fully formed identity, but eventually allows him to find a sense of peace in art even if too late to repair fractured relationships with those he loves.
Original trailer (no subtitles)