Because today’s in-flight offerings leaned mostly dark, with most of the Korean movies that I hadn’t seen having to do with death, murder and such (eep), I found myself giving Japanese movie Mix (also known as Mixed Doubles) a whirl. I’m admittedly not much interested in table tennis, but I do have a fondness for Aragaki Yui after loving her in adorable J-drama We Married As A Job. Plus, an uplifting movie didn’t sound like a bad thing – even if the medium was a sport that I had little interest in.
Even though it did take me a while to get into this one, and even though our story ran a fairly predictable course, I must say that by the end, I did finish the movie with a smile on my face, and thoughts swirling in my head. I even pulled out my laptop to capture said thoughts, right here on the plane.
That’s.. not too bad, wouldn’cha say? 😉
WHAT IT’S ABOUT
Tamako (Aragaki Yui), who hated being pushed to table tennis excellence throughout her childhood by her scary tiger mum, resolves to give up the sport completely in adulthood, so that she can live an ordinary life. After some romantic twists and turns, she eventually finds herself back in her hometown to heal her broken heart. She also unwillingly finds herself back on the table tennis court again. There, she meets down-and-out former boxer Hagiwara, and they end up training for mixed doubles together.
STUFF I LIKED
To be fair to Show, there is an element of predictability built into this premise. Just knowing the set-up, we can already guess that Tamako and Hagiwara are likely to fall in love along the way. We can also guess that through her return to table tennis, Tamako will experience the healing that she needs, get her groove back, and perhaps even rediscover a passion for table tennis that she never knew she had.
To Show’s credit, even though I felt the set-up went a touch longer than it needed to, the journey to the destination comes across as heartfelt and worthwhile.
Aragaki Yui and Nagayama Eita do a very nice job of playing our bickering leads, who just happen to get off to a very bad start. Like I said, their trajectory is relatively predictable, but it was still enjoyable to watch these characters come to understand, empathize and even care about each other. It doesn’t hurt that Aragaki Yui and Nagayama Eita share a warm, natural chemistry that translates well onscreen.
Despite the movie’s shorter running time when compared to a drama, the growth of their relationship felt organic to me, which is pretty much the most important thing to me, when it comes to how much I root for an OTP – and I found myself genuinely rooting for these two, during my watch.
The rag-tag bunch of players making up Flower Table Tennis Club.
The Flower Table Tennis Club has only a handful of members: Yuma (Sano Hayato), the high school student who keeps skipping school, Yayoi (Hirosue Ryoko), who used to dream table tennis dreams but is now the trophy wife of a doctor, and the Ochiai couple (Endo Kenichi and Tanaka Misako), a farmer and his wife, who say that they play table tennis as just a hobby.
I love that they each appear so ordinary, and yet, when Show peels the layers away, they all have individual stories and reasons for playing. I really enjoyed learning about each of them, and seeing them experience their own triumphs along the way.
THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING [SPOILERS]
I wanna say that the ending was.. not surprising and yet, still a little surprising, if that makes any sense.
I wasn’t surprised that there was a measure of noble idiocy thrown into the mix; that Tamako would basically leave Hagiwara no choice but to leave so that he could go for his interview and be with his family. I wasn’t surprised that Tamako would put Hagiwara’s future above her own desire to compete at the Nationals.
I wasn’t surprised that each of our rag-tag members of Flower Table Tennis Club attained their own closure, but I was pleasantly surprised by how gratifying it felt, to witness their personal milestones and victories. I was happy that Yayoi gained the understanding and support of her husband, and I was moved that the Ochiai couple finally played a table tennis game, in honor of their late son.
I wasn’t surprised that Tamako and Hagiwara got to play in the final round against Ejima and his partner. I also wasn’t surprised that it was a close fight. I was kind of surprised that Tamako and Hagiwara didn’t win – but also, not completely surprised, since their opponents were much more experienced than they.
I wasn’t surprised that Hagiwara realized his feelings for Tamako, and I wasn’t surprised that they got a happy ending. But I was pleasantly surprised by how satisfying it felt, to see them make choices that made them happy, even when those choices might not be the conventional ones that would be widely approved by society.
Most of all, I’m happily surprised by the swirling thoughts that this movie leaves me with, with its themes and ideas:
Find your own reason and passion for what you do; don’t do it for someone else.
Obstacles can be scary and you might be the small potato, but don’t give up. Press on and be brave.
There is power in community. Even as you pour yourself out for others, you also gain strength from them.
It’s never too late to start over.
Choose what makes you happy.
What makes you happy might not be the thing that you first expected. Dare to choose it anyway.
THE FINAL VERDICT:
A touch predictable, but uplifting and warm all the same – even if you’re not a table tennis fan.
FINAL GRADE: B