“As long as you have a girl you can cope with anything. Who cares what’s happening in the world?” the lovestruck hero of Natsuki Seta’s Georama Boy, Panorama Girl (ジオラマボーイ・パノラマガール) blusters floating around on a cloud of adolescent intensity. “Man, you’re crazy” his more mature workmate replies with unconcealed exasperation. Adapted from a manga by Kyoko Okazaki, Seta’s post-modern drama like her previous film Parks recalls the lighthearted teen movies of the Bubble era even as it gleefully subverts rom-com norms as the mismatched youngsters repeatedly glide past each other experiencing parallel though connected episodes of romantic disillusionment in a rapidly deconstructing city.
The heroine, Haruko Shibuya (Anna Yamada), is a dreamy, romantic sort of girl who’s read too many shojo manga and wishes the summer could go on indefinitely because she wants “to dream longer”. Kenichi Kanagawa (Jin Suzuki), by contrast, is a slightly nerdy young man who upends expectation by suddenly standing up mid-class after being forced to take a test on the first day back after the summer holidays to announce he’s quitting school because he’s realised it’s just not necessary for him. As if trying to get his mid-life crisis over as early as possible, Kenichi picks up a skateboard and starts hanging round in Shibuya unsuccessfully trying to pick up girls until he catches the attention of a free spirited older woman, Mayumi (Misato Morita), only to be unceremoniously beaten up by her maybe boyfriend after being spotted together in a cafe. Bloodied, bruised, and collapsed in the street is how he eventually meets Haruko who stops to see he’s OK and then randomly gifts him her combini purchases, keeping hold of his school ID card which is how she figures out who he is.
Being a teenage girl, Haruko, like her friends Kaede (Erika Takizawa) and Maru (Kogarashi Wakasugi), longs to fall in love and thinks meeting Kenichi is her romantic destiny even over investing in its potency in believing their love is probably necessary in order to save the Earth from calamity like the star-crossed lovers from a shojo manga. As their names suggest, Haruko is the city centre whereas Kenichi is the provincial suburbs, but they spend their time dancing around each other living out parallel love stories as Kenichi continues to obsess over Mayumi whose free-spirited frankness is tinged with sadness while her toying with a lovestruck teen has an almost self-destructive quality. Each of them experience a moment of romantic disillusionment realising that their adolescent visions of pure love are essentially unrealistic and that chance meetings are sometimes just that intended to go no further because life thinks nothing of the rules of narrative causality.
The failure of Haruko’s romantic dreams prompts her into a further moment of introspection as she continues to wonder if everything around her is merely an illusion. Meanwhile, the TV news is a catalogue of contemporary anxieties from an early report on a young woman who took her own life rather than return to school because of rampant bullying not to mention exam stress, to a protest over nuclear weapons and conscription, and even one about a potential response to meteors and aliens. The Tokyo the teens inhabit is one of constant uncertainty, a city half-built and in a state of limbo remaking itself for the upcoming Olympics (which ironically we now know will only half arrive). Yet as Kenichi had suggested, the teens barely notice what’s going on in the world around them so caught up are they in their adolescent dramas finding themselves less star-crossed than at cross purposes in their mutual romantic dilemmas.
Just like the teen movies of old, Seta draws inspiration from the French New Wave as the youngsters frequently monologue across each other sometimes in sync and others not their dialogue in a sense pretentious but also filled with the naive intensity of youth as they each attempt to navigate their way towards a more mature adulthood. With a charmingly timeless retro quality, Georama Boy, Panorama Girl embraces the absurdity of teenage love but finally opens the door to something more “real” brokered in a way by twin heartbreak followed by a mutual resetting as the pair walk out into a new dawn now more ready to meet whatever it has waiting for them.
Georama Boy, Panorama Girl streams in Canada until Aug. 25 as part of this year’s Fantasia International Film Festival.
International trailer (English subtitles)
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