We Made A Beautiful Bouquet (Hanataba mitaina koi wo shita)

Japan (2021) Dir. Nobuhiro Doi

Forgive the dreary repetition but I don’t know, nor never will, if there is such a thing as the perfect romantic relationship, where compatibility with your partner is absurdly flawless. Cinema, and fiction in general, is exceptionally good at depicting such a thing and like fools, we fall for it hook, line, and sinker. We can dream, I suppose.

In a café, a young couple share ear buds to listen to a song. At another table, Kinu (Kasumi Arimura) bemoans the lack of respect shown to the music by having half the song played in one ear to her date. Across the way, Mugi (Masaki Suda) says the same thing verbatim to his date. He and Kinu simultaneously decide to confront the couple – they get up, recognise each other, then sheepishly sit down again.

A few years earlier, Kinu and Mugi were a couple. They meet when both missed the last train home. Learning how much they have in common, romance blossoms and they soon become a couple. Now living together, Kinu works various jobs whilst Mugi is a freelance illustrator, but eventually has to get a full time job too, the pressures of his newfound responsibilities intruding on their relationship.

Now we know how the story ends, Nobuhiro Doi needs to spin a pretty compelling yarn of this journey to keep us invested for the next two hours. Fortunately, he does, thanks to a smart script from Yuji Sakamoto and delightful performances from the engaging leads. Also known by its more literal translation of I Fell In Love Like A Flower Bouquet this is a romantic drama that works by keeping it light and saccharine free.

Perhaps not entirely saccharine fee as the final act does pile it on a bit but has genuine reason to within the context of the scene. Romance is a genre that doesn’t have much appeal for many of us chaps, so to make one that doesn’t exclude the macho among us takes some doing. I would attribute this to the fact it is a Japanese presentation, and as trite as this sounds, this cultural application offers a unique take on the subject.

The aforementioned opening scene in the café is a masterful piece of misdirection that doesn’t compute until the very moment Kinu and Mugi set eyes on each other, and even then it isn’t clear they know each other. This scene is set in 2020, so for the full story we rewind to 2015 and the two principals introduce themselves via voice over separately but inexplicably linked by their shared passions and place in the universe.

Both 21 year-old graduates are looking to enter the adult world of employment, Mugi’s illustration gig giving him a head start. Admittedly, both enjoying the same films, manga, literature, and obscure interests like mummies and gas holders (!) is pushing the compatibility aspect a bit far, but as pure wish fulfilment goes, finding someone who is essentially a gender-opposite reflection of ourselves is the big dream for many of us.

Mugi and Kinu’s meet-cute (as the kids call it) at the train station actually isn’t contrived at all – and for the record I didn’t know that Japan’s railway industry took a night time break, given how industrious they are. Joining an older couple also stranded for the night for a drink, Mugi spots none other than Mamoru Oshii in the bar and marks out for being in the presence of a legend; the oldies had no clue who he was, but Kinu did.

Every otaku would want their romance to start this way but it won’t happen in real life, yet the script gets plenty of mileage out of this later on for the emotional climax. In the meantime, our adorable couple come together like bread and butter, buy their own apartment, adopt a cat named Baron, and do all the things couples do. So far, so fairy tale, but life is more than cats and manga.

Kinu finds stable but unsatisfying work, whilst Mugi’s art job drying up forces him to join the rat race as a salary man, which brings home the bacon but not the pig. Turning into a responsible adult almost overnight, Mugi no longer has time for video games, manga, and sadly Kinu, putting pressure on both to find the common ground they once enjoyed. They are three years into the relationship at this point – can it last any longer?

We know it doesn’t but even as things taper off for the couple, we feel for them having come this far on the journey with them, and without spoiling anything, Doi presents what must be one of the most bittersweet break ups in cinema – I actually heard Yngwie Malmsteen’s Don’t Let It End in my head as the scene plays out! That is how effective the story is, we want them to stay together even if we know it is over.

Some conventions it seems ultimately can’t be toyed with but Doi is able to influence them to suit his narrative and not the other way around. Through being told over two hours there are plenty of time skips in covering their four years together, though not at the expense of plot and character development. Doi’s direction isn’t challenging per se but eschews genre clichés for realism.

Charming us for the duration, Kasumi Arimura and Masaki Suda make a sweet couple in the chemistry they create – natural, never twee, and endearing via the chaste baby steps they take. Suda undergoes an image change as Mugi grows up whilst actually becoming more petulant, leaving Arimura to navigate Kinu as the one stuck in her teenage groove, turning it around for the finale, where she truly makes her mark.  

Romantic dramas may not be for everyone but if they had the heart and astute approach We Made A Beautiful Bouquet does, they may not be so easily dismissed as mindless fluff. Nice film!