Friday, 28 September 2012

The simplicity called ‘Halfway’

So, as you may know from my recent posts, I’ve been crazy about Okada Masaki, the cutie 23 years old Japanese actor who has such a beautiful voice and curly-bordering-to-messy perm hair. He’s a good actor and a lovely boy at the same time. After watching him in Raiou, I watched his other movies/series, up until I landed in 2009 Halfway, a movie by Kitagawa Eriko, starring Masaki (as Shinozaki Shu) and the cute Kitano Kie (as Konno Hiro). And once again, I was hooked.

Halfway is a very simple movie, such that it reaffirms my belief of the excellence that the Japanese own in making simple yet beautiful movies. Halfway has a total indie feeling all over it, it is refreshing and bringing contemplation at the same time. The premise was simple. You are a girl in the 3rd class of high school in a small town. You are going to enter university next year. What will happen if you have just dated a cute boy (one of the cutest in school, in fact), and he wants to go to a university in the capital city instead? Are you going to let him go? Or are you going to beg him to stay, whatever it takes?

That is Halfway. Below is the English-sub trailer and this is where I watched it.

The girl is Hiro, and the boy is Shu. They lived in Hokkaido. Hiro always liked Shu, the basketball sweetheart of her school. But Shu never took notice on her, or at least, she thought so, until one day he overheard her babbling over how she liked him a lot (when she was laying on the school hospital bed after an anaemic attack). To Hiro’s surprise, Shu asked her out the next day. After a moment of hesitation (and a very cute bike accident), they began to date.

Don’t expect dating a la Twilight here; Shu’s and Hiro’s date was simple. Very simple and sweet, watching it hurt me that I didn't have such a sweet high-school time. Shu and Hiro would ride their bikes together to school, singing songs together. He would buy her energy drinks from the vending machine. They would walk by the river after school together. Hiro would listen to Shu explaining about trigonometry, Shu would try to guess some English words from random Japanese words Hiro asked him. Shu would laugh at the way Hiro said ‘halfway’ (harufuwei, instead of halfway).

Until one day Hiro asked which university Shu would go to, and Shu didn’t reply. From another friend, Hiro found out that Shu planned to go to Waseda Uni in Tokyo. She got angry and confronted Shu about it. Shu was still the nice boy Shu, though. He took Hiro’s anger in a rather relaxed fashion. When Hiro said she didn’t know what to believe anymore, he said that she should believe in him.

Nonetheless, Hiro excommunicated Shu for a few days.  Shu went to seek an advice from Takanashi-sensei (Narimiya Hiroki), one of his teachers, whether he should keep or drop Waseda. Learning the real reason behind Shu’s predicament, Takanashi-sensei said that the situation was hard, but Shu should keep his choices open and not narrowing options for his future. Takanashi also said that this decision would be Shu’s first big decision, so the student should prepare himself for that. 

Shu tried to find Hiro to talk about the Waseda thing, but Hiro kept evading him. It was an extremely cute scene when Shu chased Hiro around the school, until Hiro accused him of being a stalker. Shu asked her why she didn’t reply to his messages for the last few days.

Hiro: Well, we’re breaking up and all! (as in, dude, it was so obvious!)
Shu: What? Can you please explain when we broke up exactly?
Hiro: Just recently (referring to the Waseda fight).
Shu: Huh?? That was our break up??

Shu explained that he already planned to go to Waseda before they started dating. But he asked her out anyway because he liked her. Hiro asked Shu to drop the idea of going to Waseda.  Shu did reconsider his options and eventually let go of Waseda. Hiro was very happy, of course. They resumed their dating. Laying down on a bed of fallen leaves, Shu would read his math book while Hiro did her best to disturb Shu with silly things (like giving a piece of leaf a sad face when Shu suggested that they stopped communicating for a while during the exam). 

Hiro did not follow the ‘no-contact-during-exam’ rule, though. She can also be quite a jealous girl. She couldn’t accept Shu helping a lady teacher with her flat tire. However, after a few days of not talking to him, she gave up and called him anyway. Get this scene when Hiro called Shu, whose nose was deep in a math book. 

Shu: What now?
Hiro: Just to tell you that you should study. Because you’re not so smart.
Shu: What???... Oh, look, there’s a flying cow!
Hiro: Cows don’t fly. Oh! Look, UFO!

Honestly, I can die out of cuteness overload!

However, despite her cheerful attitude, Hiro started to feel guilty about Shu not going to Waseda. She eventually consulted Hirabayashi-sensei (Osawa Takao), his cool calligraphy teacher. Hiro made a convoluted story about her friend who dated a guy who wanted to go to Tokyo, but then because her friend objected, the boyfriend cancelled out the Tokyo plan. Playing along, Hirabayashi still gave a good advice. 

‘For example,' he said, ‘they have their whole lives as a couple ahead of them. What would be the best then, for you two to stay together now, or for him to go to Tokyo? There, he could really reach his full potentials. To let someone you like achieving something like that. How would you feel if he returned with all that?’

Hiro spent a few seconds thinking. ‘I’d be happy!’

But she still was not convinced that letting the boy go was the best thing. Hirabayashi then asked her to write the two options in two pieces of paper (‘go’ and ‘no-go’) and asked her to ponder on them. Hiro did, and eventually chose ‘Go’. 

Afterwards, typical of her, Hiro dragged a confused Shu to the teacher office and asked Takanashi-sensei to support Shu in reapplying to Waseda. Shu and Takanashi were baffled by Hiro change of heart. Takanashi asked Shu once more to consider this, to know what he really wanted. Shu gave it a few minutes of thought before realising that he still wanted to go to Waseda.

So that was what happened. Despite Hiro crying and laughing for the rest of the semester, they still had fun together.  Hiro took memorable photographs of everything in their school, including of Shu, despite Shu saying it was not necessary, for him going to Tokyo wasn’t a goodbye for their relationship. In a flashback scene at the end of the movie, Hiro still said that she actually didn’t want him to go to Tokyo. But they knew he had to.

Eventually, Hiro took Shu to the train station where he would depart to Chitose and took the airplane to Tokyo (to her surprise, he met her around the corner with a bike and biked all the way with her). Hiro didn’t cry, they didn’t even kiss, but the way Shu slumped on his seat tells us how sad he was to leave his darling back home. 

That’s it. That was the whole story. Simple, yet beautiful. And real as well. Who said that high-school broken hearts are not real? Almost all of us have experienced it. Who said that leaving our high-school sweetheart behind as we pursue higher education is not hard? And why should movies deal with complicated storylines to make them interesting? They don’t have to. Halfway proved it. 

Director Kitagawa Eriko kept Halfway slow and realistic. The colours were the colours of autumn, soft and warm at the same time. The conversations were very natural, as if unscripted, as were the expressions of all the actors and actresses. The interactions between students and teachers were also very natural and admirable. The Halfway soundtrack by Salyu was gorgeous; you can listen and look at the MV below (lyrics here):

In short, Halfway was a memorable movie for me. It wasn’t a sad movie, despite the predictable and somewhat sad ending. But I wouldn’t be happy if Shu stayed in Hokkaido for Hiro. If it was from secondary school to high school, I think it was okay for him to drop the idea of Tokyo (that is for another Masaki movie, A Gentle Breeze in the Village). But this is university we’re talking about. Whether it is in Hokkaido, Tokyo, Nagoya or other places, Shu (or Hiro) should not drop the idea to pursue a higher degree of education ‘just’ because he/she have to leave the lover behind. For capturing such reality without making Hiro a drama queen (like, Hiro would suddenly say she didn’t love Shu just so Shu would go to Tokyo or vice versa), I give Halfway two thumbs up. 

The movie brought another sensation to me. I didn’t have a sweet high school time. It was not a disaster, but it was not memorable either. I didn’t have a lovey dovey time when a girl and a boy go out for a drink after school, or go out for a double/triple date with friends on the weekend. Oh, I did flirt with some boys, but never got to something even half serious. I wasn’t particularly attractive, definitely not on par with those pretty girls at school who at times would bully me. It’s not that I was sorry with my high-school time... but sometimes I wished that I had a more colourful one, without those beautiful girls playing queen all around me. But of course, the most important thing is now. I do have a beautiful relationship with a beautiful man (albeit long distance at the moment), and I am trying to live my dreams the fullest. But it’s nice to have a cute movie like Halfway to – now and then – see how beautiful a high-school time can be.

Pic 1: Okada Masaki and Kitano Kie laying on the grass, playing with falling leaves, from Movielosophy

Pic 2:Hiro (Kie) and Shu (Masaki) listening to music, from Ninobaby
Pic 3: Screen cap of Shu demanding explanation (ROTFLOL!)

Pic 4: Hirabayashi (Osawa Takao) trying to explain some logic to high school Hiro (screen cap)  
Pic 5: Okada Masaki in Halfway, from Ninobaby

Pic 6: Hiro took Shu to the train station, from Ninobaby

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