Stephen reviews: Kimagure Orange Road: I Want To Return To That Day (1988)

Kimagure Orange Road: I Want To Return To That Day [きまぐれオレンジ★ロード あの日にかえりたい, Kimagure Orenji Rodo: Ano Hi ni Kaeritai] AKA Kimagure Orange Road: the Movie, Johnny y sus amigos: Una difícil elección

Starring Tōru Furuya, Hiromi Tsuru, Eriko Hara

Directed by Tomomichi Mochizuki

This is one of the stranger anime I have seen. It is based upon a romantic comedy series that is heavy on the comedy and light on the romance. In typical anime slapstick mode, it had all sorts of bizarre physical jokes reminiscent of Saturday morning cartoons. A boy named Kyosuke and his entire family had super powers with fairly loose definitions (Think Jedi knights without lightsabers or heroics). They tried to hide their powers from the rest of society, and much of the show revolved around trying to keep it secret. He then becomes entwined in a goofy love triangle with Hikaru, a hyper, obnoxious girl who is obsessed with him, and Madoka, a quiet, temperamental girl who makes a habit of beating up thugs using nothing more than a guitar pick. From my first statement, you probably expect this film to take those concepts to new heights of Japanese weird. Not this time. It is almost pure romance with only a few halfhearted, and failed, attempts at humor. No super powers. No shrill obnoxious whining. No hurtling guitar picks of doom. Just the three main characters and their love triangle. This sudden shift in style and tone from its source material is why I call it strange, and I’m afraid that if there is any explanation, I am unaware of it.

kimagure_4I Want To Return To That Day is the conclusion of the series. I usually avoid reviewing these kinds of movies as they rely too much upon knowledge of the original, but in this instance, I felt that it was so divorced from the series that it can function as a stand alone film. The characters have the same names, faces, and actors, but the movie is so different in personality, style, and content that it hardly feels related to the series at all. There will be some confusion as to the exact relationships of the characters, especially the minor ones, but by the end it should all be sorted out. Or you can just take it from me that the leads are all just friends at the beginning of the film (I told you it was light on the romance), they like to hang out at a coffee shop called ABCB, and Kyosuke has two friends that hit on his younger sisters all the time. That’s about all you need to know, so now you can dive in without worry.

kimagure_3The film has a very subdued nature, without much in the way of exuberant outbursts. Most of the time, even strong emotions are expressed calmly and reasonably. It’s a subtle and elegant kind of storytelling that relies upon paying attention to details, like the way one of the characters lingers before leaving the room as the other two converse together. One of my favorite examples is when Hikaru stands on her toes to kiss Kyosuke, and the scene cuts to the next day with Madoka bobbing up and down on her toes while waiting for him to show up. It’s inexplicit moments like these that advance the plot, with the heavy emotions looming around the edges, building tension rather than exploding center stage. It may not fit the tastes of most western audiences, but any fan of Japanese drama will revel in it.

The film’s really unique aspect is its perspective on the characters’ relationship. It’s not a tale of falling in love; the characters have been in love with each other and too afraid to do anything about it for the entire series. This is a story about a man who finds himself in a relationship he really doesn’t want, but doesn’t quite know how to end, as well as the story of a girl who must come to terms with the fact that the man she loves just doesn’t love her back. I’m no connoisseur of romance stories, but I certainly haven’t heard of many that focus on the end of love instead of its beginning.

kimagure_1Any love triangle must inevitably give one of the characters the shaft, but this film delves into the breakup to the point where it is almost all the film is about. There is an overtone of sadness through the film, but if you’re worried about it turning into something depressing, it doesn’t. It certainly doesn’t end with the wondrous joy of a wedding, and frankly I would have been disappointed if it did, but it doesn’t leave you with a sense of loss. And if you find the ending to be rather inconclusive, be aware that the real ending comes along after the credits. But also be aware that it is another of those subtle moments that doesn’t shove the meaning of the scene down your throat.

It’s rare for me to watch a straight up romance movie, but I wound up enjoying, if not thoroughly loving it. It’s a film that has pretty small appeal; romance fans are probably looking for a story of true love conquering all, and non romance fans aren’t even going to bother with it. But it’s that very oddness that makes me like it. It’s not really my thing, but I loved the subtlety of its storytelling and its unique perspective. If you’re looking for a romance that’s not just more of the same, then this one is definitely worth a shot.

3 comments to Stephen reviews: Kimagure Orange Road: I Want To Return To That Day (1988)

  • Man, this movie was emotional. I felt so bad for Hikaru. When you first wrote this one, I read the title as simple nostalgia, but seeing it now it’s so much more heartbreaking than that. This girl just fixated on a guy who doesn’t return her love, wishing to return to the way it was on the day they kissed. It’s worse because she’s so happy and upbeat all the time, pretty much no matter what is thrown her way.

    I wasn’t on-board when it started, but after a while I found myself really invested in the characters’ struggles. I CANNOT imagine how supernatural powers would figure into it all, but I’ll take your word for it. I wonder why they chose to go this route instead of staying true to the series.

    I also took the liberty of adding some screenshots, seeing as I had the DVD handy and the review looked rather barren without any. Oh, and the video we had previously was dead so I replaced with the best I could find: the Spanish Dub!

    • Stephen

      Yeah, this movie totally blindsided me when I first saw it back in high school. I had just come off the series and did not at all expect this. I was of course a jaded teenager at the time, so I was innately opposed to sappy romance stuff, but it was still somehow compelling enough that I hung on to that battered old VHS even when I was scrounging for something that I could tape over. A decade and a half later, I’m glad I kept it. It’s certainly one of the best anime romances out there.

      It really does get to you emotionally, and it has this big sense of foreboding tragedy throughout it, but then the ending comes along and BANG! suddenly you know everything’s going to be all right. Just leave the rest of the series alone; this really is the best of it.

      Cool job with the screenshots; it definitely needed some! And I do remember having a rather difficult time tracking down a video for it, too. Sadly, this film has fallen into near complete obscurity.

      • Hahahahaha, yeah I don’t think I would’ve cared much for this as a teenager. Glad I was ignorant to it and “waited.” 🙂 I’ll probably get around the newer movie you reviewed too, I’m interested to see how they integrate the supernatural stuff because it seems like such a foreign concept having only seen this movie.

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