Ryûsuke Hamaguchi’s Asako I & II is an endearing Japanese rom-com with a high-concept premise. Asako (Erika Karata) falls in love with Baku (Masashiro Higashide) at university, but he walks out of her life and never returns. Years later she meets Ryohei, the physical double of Baku, but a very different and much kinder man in every respect.

Hamaguchi’s screenplay, co-written with Sachiko Tanaka and adapted from Tomoka Shibsaki’s novel, explores nothing less ambitious than how we fall in love and what makes for a love that lasts. What is more powerful: the physical passion of love at first sight or the safety and comfort of a partner who will always stand by you?

At first, Asako is too hurt by her past heartbreak to allow anyone new into her life, but she gradually opens up and becomes more independent thanks to a strong performance from Karata. Higashide is the real stand-out in his dual role, depicting Ryohei with a humour and warmth that makes his central relationship with Asako sing.

Asako I & II is an entertaining and nuanced rom-com and Hamaguchi does a great job of showing both sides of love: the physical passion and the day-to-day chemistry. He hits problems with the ambition of his ideas, leaving the key plot twists feeling disjointed and hard to sympathise with. The power of gut instinct is understandable but he doesn’t sell this strongly enough on screen.

There are brilliantly expressive moments like Asako and Baku’s meet-cute – where everything feels like a thrilling music video for a sweet few seconds – and there are grounded moments of simple drama and smart comedy. Hamaguchi simply fails to nail the transitions.

Asako I & II comes so close to perfection, with a hilarious and insightful script, but the execution is just a little fumbled.



CAST:  Masahiro Higashide, Erika Karata, Sairi Itô

DIRECTOR: Ryûsuke Hamaguchi

WRITERS: Tomoka Shibasaki (based on the novel by), Sachiko Tanaka, Ryûsuke Hamaguchi (screenplay by)

SYNOPSIS: Asako lives in Osaka. She falls in love with Baku, a free-spirit. One day, Baku suddenly disappears. Two years later, Asako now lives in Tokyo and meets Ryohei. He looks just like Baku, but has a completely different personality.