Hazuki (Sayu Kubota) and Aoi (Minori Hagiwara) are Japanese high school students. Despite attending the same classes, they may as well live in different worlds. Hazuki is in the popular crowd of bitchy queen bees, although her position there is wavering after she has a pregnancy scare and her ex-boyfriend hooks up with one of her friends. Aoi is class president, but is widely ignored by everyone – including her parents, whose inattention has become so miserable that she has taken to shop-lifting in the hopes of getting caught.
They collide on the street with an elderly woman (Masako Motai), who appears to be suffering from dementia. After some work – and a meal together – they eventually track down her home and family. Aoi, however, is intrigued by the love letter the old woman was fiercely protecting, and convinces Hazuki that they should return and attempt to get the letter to its intended recipient.
Hello Goodbye is the second feature film from director Takeo Kikuchi. It is not a particularly innovative or arresting film drama. It has a modest storyline to match its brief running time, and is shot and paced in a very traditional and matter-of-fact fashion. Within those narrow confines, Kikuchi absolutely nails the film: the performances are engaging and lifelike, the emotions are warm but never cloying, and the story moves to predictable but surprisingly restrained places. In short: if you are the sort of viewer that enjoys Japanese teen dramas, then this is ‘one of the good ones’.
Minori Hagiwara and Sayu Kubota are both strong and easily identifiable leads. They both have emotional problems to face, but they are problems with which a lot of teenage viewers can likely identify. Even when plot developments appear to indulge in clichés – Hazuki announcing to her ex-boyfriend that she may be pregnant sets off some pretty loud alarm bells – those developments are resolved in very grounded ways.
Masako Motai is charming as Etsuko, the elderly neighbour who brings the two girls together. She delivers an often-times slightly painful performance as a woman whose memories – both long and short term – have scrambled in her head and mostly evaporated. It gives the film an underlying sense of tragedy and regret, particularly when Hazuki and Aoi sees old photographs of Etsuko and her friends as teenagers; notably not too different from the girls themselves. There is a gentle element of social commentary to the film, regarding Japan’s growing aged care crisis and the difficulty of families keeping frail and ailing relatives at home. Kikuchi does not press this element, which is a smart move. It gains much more power by simply being there.
It is a shame that Hello Goodbye seems to have been overlooked in the wash of Japan’s seemingly endless train of superficially similar teen melodramas. It does such a quiet, elegant job. It feels genuinely insightful within a well-worn framework.