“Farewell Song” (さよならくちびる) – 2019 SDAFF Review

Haruleo is finished.  The talented indie acoustic duo may have built a dedicated cult audience and flirted with mainstream exposure, but the relationship between Haru (Mugi Kadowaki) and Leo (Nana Komatsu) has since collapsed into petty backbiting. Their capable, but exhausted roadie/manager/touring musician Shima (Ryo Narita) convinces the pair to complete their final tour before the three go their separate ways. As the trio struggle to coexist across small venues, the film cuts to flashbacks, where their past glories and wounds are revealed.

“Farewell Song” (さよならくちびる) explores the idea of independence, and the ins and outs of the Japanese music scene, but the film keeps these in the background.  Instead, director Akihiko Shiota wisely focuses on the three leads. He digs deep into the issues between the three: unrequited attractions, imposter syndrome, unfulfilled creativity, and closeted queerness.

However, the conflicts always have an undercurrent of affection that Shiota’s three wounded leads can’t seem to shake, no matter how hard they try.  This tone is greatly helped by the easy chemistry of the actors, who portray the trio as sick of being around each other, but terrified that they’ll never see each other again.

The glue that holds the film (and the characters) together are the musical performances. Kadowaki, Komatsu, and Narita performed the songs themselves.  Written by Motohiro Hata and Aimyon, the music is catchy and lyrically dense enough to convincingly show Haruleo as the kind of band that might have changed your life if you heard them at the right time, at the right age.

Immediately before the climax, Shima tells Haru and Leo that his former bandmate said to never become a musician, or else you’ll regret the things you missed in life.  However, Shima himself doesn’t regret a thing.  “Farewell Song” is an ode to a lifestyle that few people have the courage to attempt, and fewer still have the strength and luck to find success in.

“Farewell Song” screens at the 2019 San Diego Asian Film Festival on Mon., Nov. 11, at 3:15 p.m.  Tickets are available at sdaff.org.