“Halfway” Review – 2009 Japan Cuts Festival of New Japanese Film

Teenage love isn’t subtle. The teen protagonists of “Halfway” (ハルフウェイ) certainly experiences its highs and lows, from dizziness and euphoria to loneliness and jealousy. However, Eriko Kitagawa’s feature debut balances such strong emotions with a delicate touch, creating a compelling portrayal of teen romance that is refreshingly unpretentious in its execution and naturally sweet in tone.

The story is simple: Hokkaido-based high school seniors Hiro (Kii Kitano) and Shu (Masaki Okada) are in love with each other. However, when Hiro finds out second-hand that Shu is pursuing a college in Tokyo, she vehemently opposes his decision, wishing instead that he stay close by. Surrounding this one conflict is a number of conversations that find the young couple looking to the future while exploring the strength of their love for each other.

Kitagawa—a veteran Japanese TV writer—allows the actors space to improvise their dialogue, creating a comfortable rhythm between the characters. This approach also gives scenes more mileage, as sometimes an extra touch or facial expression can leave a pointed emotional accent to the scene. Kitano and Okada shine most in the enclosed world of Hiro and Shu’s private conversations. Their natural chemistry readily manifests itself even during the silence between their lines.

There are no ulterior motives behind “Halfway’s” gentle mannerisms; the movie is utterly guileless. Kitagawa instead explores her two central characters’ uncertainties and emotional hesitations. Awkwardly and haltingly, Hiro and Shu—and their relationship—mature over the course of 90 minutes, and it’s in this period that Kitagawa finds a warm, compelling melancholy that is an absolute pleasure to watch.

“Halfway” will screen on July 12 as the closing film of the Japan Cuts Festival of New Asian Film.