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To start off, I would like to say that this movie is not a romance and never has been. I won't lie and say it didn't have elements of romance and romantic implications between our two main characters, but in the end, even they explicitly stated their relationship was not a romantic one. Their relationship was something deeper than that, something harder to describe; they were each other's motivation, each other's reason to act happy that they woke up the next day, each other's saving grace.
Now for the movie itself. Our main protagonist, Haruki, is admittedly a stereotypical character. He is an emo, "edgelord" type who isolates himself from others as he doesn't see the necessity or advantage of forming relationships with people which he eventually learns throughout the course of the film. This is the weakest part of the movie but in my opinion it isn't done in a way where I was annoyed or upset with his character so I'll give it a pass. Haruki meets our other main character, Sakura, by discovering her notebook where she writes about living with dying. Upon meeting, we see that Sakura immediately wants to form a bond with him and is insistent in doing so. At first, I found this to be annoying, but overtime I realized its importance. She was willing to latch on to anyone. She could've met anyone and had the same relationship with them as she was just looking to build a friendship, something I see as her clinging on to a will to live by having someone else she will care for and someone else who she knows will miss her when she's gone. With that, their relationship grows.
We see Haruki to be continuously melancholy, unimpressed or otherwise indifferent to the activities that Sakura strings him along for, whether it be walking on the beach or eating at a restaurant they've never been to. The main instance in which their relationship builds was when they went to a hotel with each other. This is the first time we see either of them truly vulnerable as they play multiple games. Right here is where the relationship truly comes into fruition and the movie properly starts.
One of the most notable scenes in the movie is when Haruki goes to Sakura's house. Here we see Sakura treats him as something that is at the back of his mind as well as others; he treats him as a play thing. This scene makes it seem as if she was just using Haruki as a tool to fulfill her selfish needs. She was never truly vulnerable to him, just exchanging meaningless platitudes and small talk, but nonetheless their relationship still shows. I say all of this and all she did was lean in for a kiss, baiting him and backing out. This one scene alone had that impact. More than that, what comes after is also impactful. As Haruki gets understandably frustrated about this, he forces her into a vulnerable position. He forces her to have a genuine reaction so that he can see for himself how she acts and reacts. He pins her down and it's looking very grim. He eventually backs off of course as her very uncomfortable reaction then in turn makes him uncomfortable. After this, he closes himself off again. He seems to revert to what he was at the start. Then... the heart of the film is revealed to us.
Sakura's pancreas starts giving out. She goes to the hospital in bad condition. Of course, Haruki becomes worried about her as their bond is still an important one and visits her. As he opens the door, he sees her in a light that he's never seen before. She's quiet. She seems calm and collected as she just stares out of her window with a blank stare with a light that shines upon her showing how Haruki himself is seeing her in a new light. While in this hospital we get a very meaningful interaction between the two. Haruki asks one of the most difficult questions to answer, "What is the meaning of life?". Sakura's response shines through in this moment. She states that she believes that the meaning of life is to build meaningful relationships. These relationships will strengthen your connection with people and the world at large, they will help you learn from one another and they will make the other happier than they would be if they had never met. This seemingly both selfish and selfless, simple and complex philosophy moves Haruki.
From this point on their relationship only continues to strengthen until finally, Sakura dies. Now, we know that her death was inevitable, we know that sooner or later their relationship will come to an end and may even be seen as meaningless for how short their relationship might last. As such, when she doesn't die as a result of her ailment, it hits that much harder. She just dies for crime related reasons, a random event with a slim chance of happening. This is where the film clicked for me. It was never about their romantic development, it was about living life to the fullest. Death isn't something than can be set out for you. You can't pick and choose the way you die nor can you reasonably expect to die in a specific way. Your circumstances do not affect your relationship with death, it's always around the corner but we just turn the corner at different speeds; that's all it is. With that in mind, how can we expect to find meaning in life?
Haruki is now devastated. He refuses to leave his home and he keeps to himself again. He can't even bring himself to attend Sakura's funeral. One day, he musters up the courage to go to her familial home to pay respects and give his condolences. Here, we get what I consider to be the most impactful scene in the movie. The mother shares Sakura's notes with him and even shows him her phone. With this, we get to hear her say the unique and special nature of their relationship. One so powerful, even Haruki understood it to be the same way. They even share the same sentiment that saying words like "I love you" could never be applicable to their relationship but the words "I want to eat your pancreas" are, calling back to one of the first scenes in the movie where she discusses how the pancreas was edible and she just wished hers could be eaten. Haruki then asks the question "Can I cry now?". The mother ready to cry herself at the fact that he asked that question said "of course". This is the impact of the movie. A person who shuts himself off from others, seeing having relationships as meaningless, is now emotionally vulnerable. This is the strongest emotional reaction that we see experienced throughout the movie and it comes from the person who was seemingly emotionally numb or calm. Meeting Sakura will impact Haruki's life forever. When he thinks about her, he will laugh and he will cry. He will mourn her and appreciate everything she's done for him. He will form new relationships in his life and thank her for being the reason. Sakura's philosophy on the meaning of life gets passed down to him and both he and the people he interact with will be happy as a result of meeting each other.
In all, this movie impacted me. It may not be as meaningful for you as it was for me and as such this review may come off as an over estimation of the film's charm and qualities. That is understandable and because of my strong emotional reaction to this film (I cried), I may come across as biased. As such, this is one of my favourite anime films and I rate it well above average though it is not perfect. Hope you can enjoy the movie as much as I did, form your own opinion of it and come out with more things to like or dislike about it.
10 - Flaws are so unnoticeable or so minuscule that they can easily be ignored or unseen, AND I love it so much that the flaws are irrelevant to me.
9 - Great emotional resonance with me but had flaws I cannot ignore or didn't leave me with much in terms of narrative/themes/food for thought; OR I can appreciate it as excellent from a critical standpoint but didn't have as strong an emotional resonance with it.
8 - Stands out from a critical standpoint but barely had an impact on me personally; OR resonated with me emotionally but not too strongly/ made me happy but certainly wasn't anything particularly amazing.
7 - I recognize it as good but didn't think much of it/didn't really resonate with me. Most likely the show or movie with this rating is just fun or entertaining and not much else; OR it had a lot of things going for it in terms of plot, characters, writing, style, etc. but was weak in execution.
6 - Somewhat entertaining but definitely has unignorable problems/lacking in content in my eyes; OR I'm not fond of certain aspects of it while some other aspects were definitely entertaining in a good way.
5 - Inoffensively bland / boring. Had no thoughts on it; OR it had both good and bad elements that balanced out to give a mediocre experience.
4 - Has some good qualities to it but the bad qualities outweighed the good; OR I slightly dislike it while acknowledging that it has good qualities to it.
3 - It was bad in a way that particularly upset or offended me while not being that bad on an objective level; OR tolerably bad where I'm not getting much entertainment value since it isn't THAT bad but is obviously not good.
2 - I can just barely tolerate watching it, meaning it's quite bad with one or 2 elements that kept my investment whether it be curiosity to see where it goes, to see how bad it could be or investment in the continuation of a pre-existing property or investment in the concept or investment in it's notoriety/impact in the film world, though I definitely do not enjoy watching it; OR it is funny bad, where it is so ridiculously bad that it gets an extra point for at least entertaining me/making me laugh.
1 - Unbearable to watch, meaning it actually offended/upset me without any objective quality about it that could redeem it in any way; OR it was completely uninteresting and boring while also being horrendously bad.
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