Review: “Mellow” Is a Calming Slice of Japanese Life With Flowers and Ramen

Japanese director Rikiya Imaizumi's personal drama “Mellow” is a soothing break from heavy-hitting fare.

By , 2 Feb 20 02:39 GMT
Courtesy of Pony Canyon.

One would expect a film named Mellow to be, well, mellow. Rikiya Imaizumi‘s latest film lives true to its title, giving us a glimpse into the lives of Natsume, the owner of a flower shop, and Kiho, who runs a ramen joint. Mellow is a calm and soothing experience that offers audiences a glimpse into the daily lives of Japanese people through Natsume and Kiho’s lenses. 

Ostensibly, Mellow is a love story between Natsume and Kiho. However, the film takes a while to build towards any romantic tension between the two characters. Instead, Mellow opens with scenes from Natsume and Kiho’s daily lives—along with a bevy of adjacent characters and their own stories. Imaizumi interperses stories about romantic and platonic love throughout the first half of the film. 

Courtesy of Pony Canyon.

In its first half, Mellow indexes on a few subplots—female high school student Hiromi has to fend off a few lesbian crushes while trying to catch Natsume’s attention, whle Natsume deals with his married customer Mariko’s affection. These threads ultimately turn out to be distractions as the central plot focuses on Kiho’s ramen shop.

However, given the exposition time allocated to these subplots, a viewer would not be remiss to think that Natsume ought to be considered a bit of a “playboy” throughout the film.

The plot climaxes when Kiho decides to close her ramen shop and move abroad from Japan to study architecture. We learn that she has some affection for Natsume, but struggles to communicate those feelings to him. That said, “climax” is a strong word to use; there is little tension leading up to the point where Kiho starts to realize and express her feelings for Natsume, and in the scenes that follow, there’s a clear lack of any steamy or passionate expressions of those romantic feelings. 

Courtesy of Pony Canyon.

Ultimately Mellow doesn’t try to tug hard at heartstrings or drive a particularly socially significant message. Instead, it offers viewers a simple viewpoint into the lives of two fairly remarkably normal Japanese people, and the relationships between them. The plot of the film is fairly simple, while the characters don’t face any serious tension that might entice anxiety in the audience. While Mellow isn’t a gripping melodrama, it lives up to its name as a suitably entertaining, casual personal drama.

•  •  •

Mellow—Japan. Dialogue in Japanese. Directed by Rikiya Imaizumi. First released January 17, 2020 at the San Francisco Independent Film Festival. Running time 1hr 46min. Starring Kei Tanaka, Sae Okazaki, Sara Shida, Tamaki Shiratori, Sumire, Kenjiro Yamashita, Rie Tomosaka, Mantaro Koichi.

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