Georama Boy, Panorama Girl (ジオラマボーイ・パノラマガール, Natsuki Seta, 2020) [Fantasia 2021]

“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)

Sasaki in My Mind (佐々木、イン、マイマイン, Takuya Uchiyama, 2020)

A young man is forced to confront his quarter life malaise when presented with unexpected tragedy in Takuya Uchiyama’s heartfelt youth movie, Sasaki in My Mind (佐々木、イン、マイマイン). A study in inertia, Uchiyama’s moody drama finds its melancholy hero defeated by life, looking back to more hopeful high school days and the larger than life friend he has, by his own admission, failed convinced by his own rather solipsistic sense of personal inadequacy that he lacked the capacity to save him. 

An aspiring actor, Yuji (Kisetsu Fujiwara) lives in a small apartment with his ex-girlfriend (Minori Hagiwara) and makes ends meet with a factory job he seems to be embarrassed by. Approached by an actor friend (Nijiro Murakami) apparently doing a little a better with a series of bit parts in TV shows and commercials, Yuji is reluctant to take him up on his offer of a part in a play, while an accidental meeting with an old high school friend, Tada (Yuya Shintaro), pushes him into a defensive mindset after he’s rightly called on his passivity. “Watching life go by in terror” as his character in the play eventually puts it, Yuji is so defeated by life that it has rendered him entirely listless. Ironically taking up boxing, he gets into a random fight with a customer from the the next table at an izakaya, insisting that he doesn’t want to lose but otherwise refusing to fight for anything even the girlfriend he apparently still loves whose refusal to move on perhaps hints at the desire to be given a reason not to. 

His meeting with Tada, now a moderately successful, married salaryman, reminds him of his high school friend, Sasaki (Gaku Hosokawa), a larger than life character who used to strip impromptu and dance in the nude when greeted by chants of his name. It was Sasaki who first convinced him to become an actor as they watched Kirk Douglas in Champion on TV, though after graduation and a move to Tokyo Yuji made no real effort to keep in touch with his friend seeing him only once and discovering he had become a lonely pachinko player equally consumed by a sense of personal hopelessness. As Sasaki once put it, elephants communicate with each other through low frequency sound imperceptible to humans, his own quiet distress call apparently missed by his old friends who perhaps tired of his outlandishness as they outgrew their teenage selves and became bogged down in their own lives leaving him behind as they strove forward alone. 

Left behind is something which Yuji cannot help but feel, further deepening his sense of personal failure in having achieved not much of anything in his Tokyo life. Sasaki aside, his high school friends, Tada and Kimura (Yusaku Mori), have each shifted into a conventional adulthood with regular salaryman jobs, homes, wives, and even children. He didn’t go to his last high school reunion, probably as Tada seems to have realised out of a sense of shame, for the same reason avoiding contact with his old friends while living in an awkward limbo with the ex who apparently grew bored with his lack of drive and continuing air of defeated ennui. Despite his own insecurity, Sasaki had encouraged him to live his life, ensuring him that he’s got this, but when it came to it Yuji failed to do the same abandoning him in their old home town as a relic of the past he can’t quite accept. 

Admitting as much to his theatre director, Yuji is once again told to shine in his own spotlight and that lonely people aren’t necessarily lonely because they’re alone. Everyone keeps telling him to grow up, act like an adult, but Yuji doesn’t seem to know how hung up on high school immaturity and reflecting only too late that perhaps they never really understood their friend and in the end they simply left him behind. Only a confrontation with finality pushes him towards a break with his sense of inertia, acknowledging that what he feared was letting go and the eventual forgetting that comes with loss but the “world is rushing forward. We have to keep up”. Sasaki remains for him at least in his mind as he always was, the first of many goodbyes in an “empty elegy” that eventually becomes one’s own. A touching tale of quarter life crisis, Uchiyama’s moving drama eventually pushes its static hero towards an acceptance of his moral cowardice but finally gives him the courage to move forward taking his memories with him into a freer future. 


Sasaki in My Mind streamed as part of this year’s Nippon Connection.

Original trailer (no subtitles)