A Japanese Lesson in Romantic Obsession

The word obsession translates to shuuchaku しゅうちゃく in Japanese and is a staple theme in most Japanese entertainment. In fact, many relationships in Japanese films start because of a persistent obsession from one of the lead characters. This is a good thing, otherwise the Japanese characters might never marry.

I find it funny that obsession gets such a bad rap. I mean, after all, don’t most relationships begin with some sort of obsession? People don’t start relationships because they have no interest in the other person; there’s usually a “pursuing” that’s going on. Unless I’ve been mis-reading literature and the entire entertainment industry all these years. The difference between healthy and unhealthy romantic obsessions is how it affects the other person. Is that person’s life changing for the better? Is your life changing for the better in tandem with the other person’s life? Do you grow each other? Or do you keep a bazillion pictures of this person hidden in your room behind the door and secretly imagine a relationship that only exists in your mind? The basic gist is that stalking someone from behind a tree or plotting to take down that other person’s significant other is BAD. That’s very unhealthy behavior.

Japan uses both sides of the romantic obsession coin in their storytelling, but my focus for this topic is the healthier side, where one person actively pursues a reciprocal, intimate relationship with another person. No stalking involved with intent to harm. You can see this healthier side of romantic obsession in Japanese films like One Week Friends starring Kento Yamazaki and My Little Monster starring Suda Masaki.

One Week Friends tells the peculiar story of a high school student named Kaori (Haruna Kawaguchi) whose brain wipes the past week’s memories every Monday. It’s a form of dissociative amnesia caused by a car accident and the need to block memories of bullying from junior high. She isolates herself until scrawny, awkward Yuki Hase (Kento Yamazaki) meets her in the school library. It takes him a couple of rounds of memory wipe and a conversation with his homeroom teacher to figure out what’s going on. His teacher encourages Yuki to step back from Kaori, that his attempt to befriend her may just hurt her in the end. But Yuki knows he’ll never know what could have developed between them if he doesn’t try.

Japanese youth take a serious view of confessing love or liking someone because it will only haunt you if you say nothing. Yuki desperately wants to be friends with Kaori, so he comes up with the brilliant idea of keeping an exchange diary with her. For two weeks, every time he sees her, he bows low (normal in Japan to show your seriousness), extends the notebook and asks her “Will you please be my friend?” She finally takes it. They exchange this diary with each other during the week, but she keeps it on Friday so when Monday comes around, she’ll have it and “remember” him. It works!

It’s Yuki’s persistence that gets their friendship off the ground. Everyone tells him he should give up, but nope, he is NOT willing to do that. I say “friendship,” but the audience knows he’s falling in love with her. Near the end, though, Yuki falters. She was in a relationship in junior high that didn’t work out due to miscommunication, but she remembers this boy. When he transfers to their high school, she knows him, and Yuki, due to the Japanese sense of honor, steps out of the picture. She forgets him, and he lets her. That is, until what was once just a gracious gesture on her end (checking out a book for Yuki on her school library card), yanks them back onto the same path. Yuki’s a blossoming manga artist and (naughty boy) draws stories in the margins of library books. He drew his and Kaori’s story in the margins of this book. When Kaori sees their story, including their last moments together as friends and his broken heart, everything comes flooding back. She remembers this amazing boy who only ever wanted to be her friend and support her. The ending is obscure, kind of unusual for the Japanese films I’ve seen, but the audience gets the feeling that Yuki and Kaori’s friendship will continue and has the potential to grow into romance since Yuki already loves her. And that’s awesome.

In My Little Monster, the male lead Haru Yoshida (Suda Masaki) is almost a high school drop-out and very socially awkward. He’s desperate for friends, but because he’s so hyper and strange, it’s just not going to happen. At least, not until an odd twist of fate throws Shizuku Mizutani (Tao Tsuchiya) into his path. Shizuku reluctantly delivers study material to him from their homeroom teacher, and his brain immediately translates it into she wants to be friends with him. This was not Shizuku’s intention, so she spends the next couple of weeks trying to figure out what to do with this strange boy who follows her and finally decides to go to school because he’ll be going with her. Their relationship develops slowly since Haru is so inept socially, but he has enthusiasm going for him. One night, Haru is especially hurting and lonely and Shizuku reaches up and hugs him, a very unusual move for her. That’s all it takes. Haru looks at her, leans in, and declares that he thinks he likes her the way a boy likes a girl.

Now Shizuku can’t move without tripping over Haru, whose personality means he makes decisions with an all or nothing stance. Where Shizuku is concerned, he’s all in. Now to just convince her to love him back. Haru and Shizuku are a crazy match. They are complete opposites, but I guess they prove opposites attract. Haru yearns for close connections with others, he always has. His parents abandoned him when he was young and left him in the care of an older male relative (a nice guy). He’s always putting out feelers for someone to love him. Shizuku has no time for friends or boys or connection. Her schoolbooks are the only thing that won’t let her down, or so she believes until Haru comes into the picture. He helps her remember to reach out to others, and to connect with her family, her mother especially who is always away for work. Together, they grow in necessary ways. Haru learns he needs to not just be an open book and let everyone into his life, and Shizuku learns she must crack the door on her heart to let at least a couple of people in. Haru is obsessed with the idea of friendship and with Shizuku, but his obsession isn’t dangerous. It’s that instant sense of liking someone and acting on it and persisting until the other person responds.

One Week Friends and My Little Monster are pleasant reminders that obsession does not necessarily equate itself with evil. For both boys (it’s funny that it’s the male lead both times who get obsessed), their obsessive attraction ends up growing them in healthy ways. Haru grows into a much better, stronger person who develops deeper relationships. Yuki realizes sometimes the important thing is to let go, especially if you really love the other person. Fortunately for Yuki, his story doesn’t end in permanent separation from Kaori. And for Kaori, she learns relationships are worth pursuing, even if the danger of forgetting might loom heavily.

Both Suda Masaki and Kento Yamazaki are prominent figures in Japanese entertainment today and, barring any unforgivable social error on their part, should be popular for decades to come. Since Japan appears to have written the book on romantic obsession, I expect there will be many more movies with this theme in their futures.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: When Carissa Horton isn’t working full-time, she’s either reading the classics, delving into new knitting projects, plotting an adventure to someplace new, playing with her cat Bucky Barnes, or enjoying films from some of her favorite movie stars like Laurence Olivier, Marlon Brando, Jeff Goldblum, and Brendan Fraser. She’s a JASNA member and dreams of taking that ultimate Jane Austen trip to England to immerse herself in literary culture, but until then, fondly remembers her brief stint on the stage as Charlotte Lucas in a local production of Pride & Prejudice. You can occasionally find her on her blog, Regency Girl, but she confesses to being a lazy writer who doesn’t do as much writing as she should without a deadline.

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