Now showing in Hong Kong

Film review: Initiation Love – poignant 1980s-set romance disappoints with big final twist

Work that sets out to expose the ugly side of romance is an interesting concept that’s surprisingly affecting, but let down by a narrative trick

PUBLISHED : Monday, 14 December, 2015, 10:23am
UPDATED : Monday, 14 December, 2015, 10:27am

A brazen gimmick of a film that sets out to expose the ugly underbelly of romantic relationships, Initiation Love opens with a cryptic title card that urges its audiences not to spoil its big twist: a last-minute reversal which – for all its assertion for poetic justice – dramatically cheapens the engaging tale of love found and lost that comes before it.

WATCH Initiation Love trailer

Set in a late 1980s Japan that’s meticulously reconstructed to capture the fashion and pop music of the period, director Yukihiko Tsutsumi’s (20th Century Boys) adaptation of Kurumi Inui’s 2005 bestselling novel is split into “Side A” and “Side B”, with the month and day being inexorably marked on every one of its often ordinary, sometimes emotionally trenchant, scenes.

Side A introduces us to a nerdy college student played by the little-known TV actor Kanro Morita, who is curiously kept anonymous in the film credits under the pseudonym of Alan Smithee. Once he’s shocked to receive the affection of the beautiful Mayu (Atsuko Maeda), who duly nicknames him “Takkun”, the young man promises to transform himself.

When the story flips to Side B, Takkun – whose real name is Suzuki – is played by the actor Shota Matsuda as a far more dashing man. Suzuki’s romance with Mayu takes a hit when he’s transferred by his company to Tokyo. As his long weekend drives back to Shizuoka to visit Mayu take their toll, Suzuki begins to go out with his co-worker Miyako (Fumino Kimura).

For much of its duration, Initiation Love offers a surprisingly affecting account of the various stages of Suzuki’s two affairs, which in their respective ways are both curtailed by the pragmatism of everyday life. While the aforementioned twist ending is a regrettable turn to narrative trickery, its indictment on modern love is at least interesting in concept.

Initiation Love opens on December 10