It’s clear that Japanese director Naomi Kawase ('The Mourning Forest') has poured her heart and soul into every frame of this wishy-washy drama about two teenagers coming of age. That makes it all the more depressing that the end results are so resoundingly uninvolving and off-putting. Kaito (Nijiro Murakami) and his girlfriend Kyoko (Jun Yoshinaga) live on the island of Amami-Oshima. He’s a troublemaker pissed off because of his parents’ divorce, she’s an introvert who is facing the impending death of her shaman mother. The discovery of a dead body upsets what little balance there is between the two, and their stormy teen emotions are parallelled by the typhoons that occasionally hit the shore with brute force.
The film proceeds in wearying fits and starts. No one scene leads gracefully into the next: luxurious shots of the natural environs bump against ugly handheld dialogue scenes full of laughable pregnant pauses and on-the-nose observations. When one character notes that people are like waves and then slowly, solemnly explains the metaphor, you have to stifle giggles. A few moments stand out, not always in a good way. Kaito’s woozy, alcohol-infused visit to his estranged father in Tokyo shows some directorial flair. But two graphic goat killings – meant as a kind of animal-world reflection of the tale’s themes of death and rebirth – play like cheap shock tactics. It’s almost as if Kawase is daring us to turn away from the hard truths she thinks she’s unearthed. Challenge accepted.