Natsuyuki Rendezvous: ‘I want to make you happy’

The art noveau style ending was absolutely gorgeous. I know this is kinda irrelevant…but this will be my new wallpaper…once I manage to clear everything off the desktop!!

If I were to describe Natsuyuki Rendezvous in just one word, “unexpected” is the one I would choose. It surprised me in several ways, the most obvious one being the subject matter, which dealt with relationships between adults rather than between teenagers. However, skimming through the series again so as to get my thoughts about it in order, the thing that hits me most is the subtlety with which the feelings of each of the three leads are conveyed. I’m not sure if I can give justice to the depth I personally found in Natsuyuki Rendezvous, but I can only try.

First, the fact that Natsuyuki is about adults rather than teenagers was a really refreshing change. After watching scores of series focused on school-aged kids, a story where adults try to sort through all the baggage that comes with having a ‘history’ was like coming across a pot of gold. Some things remain the same as in teenage romances: figuring out when and how to tell the person you like that you like them; trying to make them happy; the little things such as garlic breath that immediately changes the direction that a night out might take. But some things are also different, such as the significance of past relationships.

A painful and bittersweet love triangle…

The supernatural element may turn some of the more skeptical viewers away, but it’s important to remember that Japanese people are a lot more comfortable with the idea of spirits,* for this was one of the tools that Kawachi Haruka used sublimely to convey the emotions between the three. It was Hazuki’s interaction with Shimao’s ghost that finally forced him to push forward with his naive but earnest feelings; Hazuki’s subsequent probing of Rokka’s past then allowed her to confront long buried feelings that were holding her back; and the earnest expression of both their feelings finally enabled Shimao himself to understand and accept how he could best make is loved one happy.

To elaborate on this in a topsy-turvy way, one detail that grabbed me was that the name of the shop remained “Flower Shop Shimao” right up to the end. That is, Hazuki really married into the family, into the Shimao family that Rokka had become part of, to carry on the shop that Shimao had started with Rokka. Or, to put it another way, he took on Shimao’s legacy, the legacy that Rokka so dearly wanted to protect. Thus, in a sense, Shimao asking the grandson to call him “grandpa” at the end alludes to his role in the family, a role that Rokka and Hazuki had basically enshrined. As Hazuki observed in that final episode, he was the only one who could have and would have done this much to honour Shimao’s memory with her.

Not quite the right way to go.
Love isn’t about trying to win against someone else; it’s about trying to make your loved one happy.

Many other viewers didn’t find the same things that I did. Besides the supernatural element mentioned above, the predominant complaint was that there was no reason why any of the characters should have fallen in love with each other. That Hazuki never really had a good reason to like Rokka, nor Rokka a good reason to fall in love with him (especially given that Shimao took over his body halfway through the show). Furthermore, Hazuki and Shimao were both criticised heavily for selfish and childish actions – trying too hard to force Rokka to look at him in the former’s case, and trying to drive all potential suitors away in the latter’s.

For me, however, the show was filled with little details that reminded me of what love actually is: not some romanticised ideal, but rather, built up around a few words and gestures, and simple shapes and feelings. The band-aid and what it represented, which captured Hazuki’s heart, the embarrassing declarations and dedication that the older Rokka fell in love with, those beautiful flower arrangements that her younger self so admired, the large eyes and the rounded head that both men loved. We might fantasise about a handsome stranger riding in to sweep us off our feet…but more often than not, love is something that creeps into our lives, something that grows with each little moment.

And perhaps more importantly, this series is also about what love really means: making your loved one happy. That is, rather than being selfish and just thinking about what you want out of the relationship, you focus on giving to the person you love, on compromising, perhaps sacrificing something you might want, so that he or she is happy. In my experience, it’s when this behaviour is mutual that a relationship works – and that’s the place I believe Shimao, Rokka and Hazuki arrived at in the last episode of Natsuyuki Rendezvous.

“I want to make her happy.”

* An aside: sceptics may roll their eyes and classify Natsuyuki Rendezvous as a story that departs from reality because of its supernatural elements. However, I doubt that that’s what most Japanese people would focus on, as many people still believe in the presence of spirits, even if they can’t see them. Some people may label it a ritual or tradition, but the “Bon Festival” is actually about remembering one’s ancestors and appeasing the spirits of those who might otherwise be restless and thus cause real harm. Most communities still celebrate this each summer, with festivals, dances and lots of visiting and praying, as well as a trip to the family tombstone to clean it and make one’s offerings.

I’m not sure if anyone’s ever done a study on it, but one topic of conversation I remember from my time in Okinawa was about Japanese people who could ‘see ghosts’. During the 2nd World War, a third of the civilian population lost their lives, and the survivors were left to pick up whatever pieces they could. On top of the horrendous death toll, the island had been razed and many of the old ancestral tombs were destroyed. Many of the schools today were apparently built on the land upon which these tombs once stood…and many of them are said to be haunted. My fellow teachers often spoke of students (and other teachers) who could see some of the spirits – in particular, I remember a story about a teacher who wasn’t able to enter a certain room in his school because of the spirit that haunted it. Some people might argue that the chill some of my friends felt when visiting one of the haunted locations on the island was a result of them projecting what they expected to find. But as for me…I don’t know. I think I’d rather not see them myself, but I do think they exist. And that’s another reason why the ‘reality’ or not question about this series doesn’t really bother me too much.

About karice
MAG fan, freelance translator and political scientist-in-training. I also love musicals, travel and figure skating!

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