You can be forgiven for not having any idea what this post is about from the title. Orange is the name of a movie that I had never heard of which I discovered while recently riding on a plane, returning home from a trip to India. It’s a Japanese film that just came out last year, and which a bit of cursory research reveals is based on a manga comic series. My attention was caught by the logline, which said, “A teenaged girl receives a letter from her older self warning her of regrets to avoid…” or something like that. I’m a bit of a sucker for time-travel related drama and I once found one of my all time favorite movies this way (Summer Time Machine Blues) so I decided to give it a go.
Well, Orange is not likely to find its place in my all time favorite movies, but as Japanese teen fantasy romantic drama films go, it caught my attention. The girl in question, Naho, is a second year high school student, and on the first day of school meets a new transfer student with whom she quickly becomes emotionally attached. She and her friends welcome the newcomer, but he, Kakeru, is deeply troubled and scarred. The letter warns her of a series of regrets that her older self has regarding this relationship, culminating in their group’s ultimate failure to prevent the boy’s suicide, about a year from the younger Naho’s point of view. The film details Naho’s attempts to prevent the tragic outcome, and to alter the outcomes of the various situations that led to her future regrets.
Though there is a bit of a juvenile feel to everything that seems commensurate with the film’s high school setting, there is something really nice about Orange in the way that it handles the trauma that Kakeru has suffered which has led to the terrible decision to take his own life. The pain he feels is authentic, and the healing he receives comes in believable stages. The story clearly shows that preventing his suicide is not the matter of simply changing one major event in his life, but rather filling his days with so many positive experiences and relationships that when his darkest moment arrives, he finds he has more reasons to live than to not to. I appreciated this positive message and the depth with which it was handled.
The movie also had some surprises in store for me, especially when we began to actually see the 26 year old Naho, and learn both about Kakeru’s history and his fate through the twin perspectives of the two timeframes. We also learn that one of Naho’s friends, the outgoing and athletic Suwa, has also received a letter from his future self. In the future in which Kakeru died, Naho and Suwa eventually married and had a baby, and we eventually see that they wrote the letters as a method for processing their grief.
The movie puts forward the idea that changing the past does not change the future–rather, it creates an alternative timeline, so the results of Naho’s knowledge of the future does not erase her older self’s regrets, it simply creates another version of herself that manages to avoid them. With this device, the film gives us a satisfying ending in which we see both the Naho (and her friends) who has learned to live with her sadness, and yet still go on, and the younger girl who looks forward to the future with unbridled optimism.
I have no idea why the movie is called “Orange”. I don’t know if the color has a significance for the Japanese, or if it’s made more explicit in the manga series which inspired it. I did notice that in one scene, the characters refer to the color when telling Kakeru about how beautiful some of the temples in their town. It’s probably laced all the way through the movie, but it only occurred to me to look for it as a motif late in the game.
The other time I realized its potential significance was during what was for me a standout scene, when the six friends all compete in a relay race together, and it’s the color of the baton they pass to each other. The scene perfectly captures the style of the movie – simple but effective editing and sound design, with lots of fairly overt symbolism to carry the story’s themes.
In the sequence, the letter reveals that Kakeru ran anchor (the last lap) of the relay race at a school sport’s day, but fell during his lap and blamed himself for the school losing. The friends debate whether to keep him from running all together, or to allow things to play out as they have already seen the start of differences in their lives from what is written in the letters. In the end, they let him run (it’s a foregone conclusion the school will want him to, since he is the fastest in the class) but they all volunteer to run with him (something that really nobody wants to do, since it’s such a high pressure event). As the (orange) baton is being passed from person to person, each one says to the one in front of them, “Message for Kakeru!”, which is followed by a close up of their lips saying something, but with the sound cut out (dead silence). Finally, the baton goes to Naho, and when she passes it to Kakeru himself, she cries out, “Kakeru, this is from all of us!” Then we hear their messages: “Don’t lose!” “Promise!” “Together forever!” “Ten years from now!” We’ll all…be waiting!” It’s clearly fantasy, but treated as if it were really happening, and is the sort of magic this film is full of, which you can really only create through cinematic language, and not really anywhere else (except maybe comics).
Anyway, Orange is not what I’d call a great movie, but it was a memorable one for me, and I’m not ashamed to admit it, it made me cry–cuz you know, I’m in touch with my emotions and stuff.