Love Triangles and Kabedon: The Recipe for a Japanese High School Romance Movie
High school romance flicks have long been a staple of the Japanese film industry. Whether you’re a student yourself or an adult reminiscing those nostalgic days of youth, these light-hearted romance films are always good for comfort viewing. And if you’ve watched enough of them, you might start to notice the patterns that begin to show up movie after movie. There has to be a recipe to achieve that perfect amount of fluff, after all.
The Transfer Student
Good-looking boys don’t just appear out of nowhere. They transfer from a town far away and land in the classroom of the female protagonist who, unlike her squealing classmates, is oblivious to the charm of this attractive new classmate until he sits in the conveniently empty seat next to her. This new student is instantly popular, but he doesn’t notice it either.
School Field Trip
All right! The semester’s just started and it’s…time for a trip? The students get ready to go on the yearly school trip, and the protagonist finds herself in the same group as her brewing love interest. The overnight excursion is a hotbed of youthful shenanigans—the teachers know to stay out of their students’ way so they can freely wander a place they’ve never been to and canoodle at their own free will.
Happily-ever-after doesn’t come easily. As obvious as it is to us viewers, it will take a long time before two main characters realize their feelings for each other (in most cases, the length of the entire movie). Whether it’s another girl or an irrational fear of the opposite gender, unrequited love is a classic stumbling block in a typical high school romance.
Our heroine finally decides she needs to the next step, and goes for a groundbreaking makeover. She takes off her glasses, shakes out her Showa-era pigtails and instantly transforms from plain girl to shining beauty. Usually, the effect is only complete with soft bokeh surrounding her and the male protagonist having a revelation of how cute she is.
Something has to provoke the hero’s protective instincts, so the girl trips and falls. It’s a perfect opportunity to show his masculine appeal, so he sweeps her up and carries her like a princess to the nearest infirmary. The whole time she’s protesting, but she secretly enjoys it.
Just when the male protagonist starts to develop feelings for the heroine…of course someone else has to come into the picture and thus starts the frustrating but thrilling love triangle. A charming new rival swoops in to mend the girl’s heart, and the first boy begins to question his feelings. The heroine suddenly finds herself conflicted with the obligation to choose between two handsome boys.
The one move that sends girls swooning—the kabedon. Long popularized as a flirtatious trope in anime and manga, it causes just as much a stir on the big screen. If there’s one thing the female protagonist needed for her heart to be swayed by the boy, it’s getting abruptly cornered into the wall. It’s an exciting act of romance when he leans in close with all the authoritativeness of an adolescent in love.
An Unavoidable Tragedy
It’s taken two hours of heart-pounding moments and teenage angst for the leads to get together; now everyone can finally be happy! That is, until we find out the secret one of the protagonists have been keeping the entire movie. They’re dying, and this was their last chance at experiencing love. Cue anger, tears and the final promise to love each other forever.
Childhood friends, school festivals, confessions at Christmas—there are so many other themes and motifs that make up a Japanese high school movie. All of it sums up to a sometimes fluffy, sometimes bittersweet retelling of school life and youth. What other typical scenes can you think of?
No one movie is exactly the same, but now you might start noticing patterns in these high school movies. There are go-to formulas, and it doesn’t seem like the audience will stop enjoying them anytime soon. As long as romance is delivered, the job is done.
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