Takehinko Shinjo has, over the course of his directorial career, acquired the title “master of romance movies.” Here, in his beautifully composed fifth feature film, Beyond The Memories, the romance is constantly shadowed by tragedy and feelings of regret.
Adapted from a manga comic that has sold over 2.95 million copies, Beyond The Memories starts with the story of Kanna Seto (Masami Nagasawa) and Kazue Haruta (Kengo Kora). Growing up in a small, coastal town the two have been friends since childhood and their gender difference has never been an issue till they reach the age of 15, when their feelings become more complex, as both come to the romantic attention of classmates and eventually, each other.
Then tragedy tears Kanna’s world apart and the film jumps forward eight years, where we find Kanna now working in Tokyo, though clearly haunted by her past and struggling to form any kind of romantic attachments. Soon she meets the enigmatic, somewhat rakish Roku (Masaki Okada), who has his own dark memories of his own to deal with.
Beyond The Memories has its comic moments (especially the rather “meta” subplot involving an acquaintance of Roku who is a renowned Manga artist). And, the actors bring a lightness to their roles (in particular Yuki Furukawa as Kiyomasa Komine). But, this film is really a study in the tragic side of romance, in the way we deal with loss and grief and in the innocence we surrender when moving into adulthood. Kanna and Roku spend an increasing amount of time facing the memories that haunt them and wondering what happens to the spirit of those who are lost.
However, at 127 minutes, Beyond The Memories feels longer than it needs to be, with the subplots and narrative twists not always helping to move the story along. Perhaps the film-makers felt a need to include key moments from the original comic and they have clearly chosen to tell the story patiently, almost delicately, giving the characters time to evolve and come to grips with their experiences. But, it did feel, especially in the third act, like the story was retracing its steps too many times.
Despite these minor reservations, Beyond The Memories stands out as a moving, attractive and thought-provoking film. Much of the success of Beyond The Memories is down to Shinjo’s considered direction, particularly the way the characters move through their world and the details they notice along the way. But, the real star is Masami Nagasawa. Her wonderful performance carries the film; especially the way her face manages to register both the winsome naiveté of youth and the tragic awareness of adulthood, sometimes in the same moment. It’s a subtle and beguiling performance that anchors a surprising and enchanted romantic tragedy.