JFF Initiation Love

I had heard that this film would linger in your mind long after you finished watching. Being somebody who enjoys movies that offer something to think about, I gave it a try – and Initiation Love completely and generously delivered. Starring big names to the likes of Shota Matsuda (Suzuki) and Atsuko Maeda (Mayu), the film is set in the 1980s and tells the story of a man who – much to his surprise – finds himself gaining the attention of the loveliest woman he’s met. Although she likes him just as he is, he feels determined to make himself a better person for her and his hard work eventually leads to him excelling in his new job and getting relocated to Tokyo.

The ensuing long-distance relationship is shown to us through the perspective of Suzuki. This should come to no large surprise – films are often told from the perspective of a particular character, though director Yukihiko Tsutsumi has been very clever in offering opportunities for the audience to physically place themselves in Suzuki’s shoes. A fair number of scenes are shot in the first person; in fact, not only do we see exactly what Suzuki sees, but our sight is also occasionally manipulated according to what is going through his mind.

Cinematography aside, the film succeeds in pulling its audience into the 1980s of Japan – from car and fashion trends to dealing with the rapidly growing developments in technology, all corners are covered in enough depth to make you forget about the phone in your pocket and the toddlers playing with iPads on the train. The world was a different place back then and the film captures this fact as naturally as possible. While a romance film set in the 1980s may not sound like the most original idea, the plot progresses quickly and leaves you stunned. The impact wouldn’t be as strong if it weren’t for the actors who take part in this film, but each character feels whole and real and being allowed a peek into their lives is intriguing to say the least.

Clever directing and brilliant acting are an ideal combination, and alongside the thoroughly thought-out camerawork that allows us to at times be in Suzuki’s mind and at other times a quietly interested bystander, it’s hard to find something to fault. Initiation Love is a genuinely interesting and entertaining film that explores the morals that can come into play when dealing with one’s first love. I left this movie feeling as though I knew less about it than I did when I walked in, but isn’t that what first loves are all about? Note the particular care I’m taking to not spoil a single scene – all I can say is that the next time I hear that a film is unlike your every-day love story, it’s going to have very big shoes to fill. (Nike Air Jordans, perhaps.)

Review score: FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Catch the Japanese Film Festival in Sydney November 5 – 15 and Melbourne November 26 – December 6.

Visit the Japanese Film Festival website for more information and session times.