Natsuyuki Rendezvous – 11 (Fin)

After a long, tearful good-bye, a brief incident with garden shears, and a neck bite, Atsushi finally releases Hazuki’s body back to him. Hazuki wakes up as if from a long slumber, confirming his love for Rokka and asking her to marry him. Many years pass, to when Hazuki passes away at age 65, not long after Rokka. Their daughter Yuki vows to keep the shop, while their grandson inspects Atsushi’s old room, kept closed thoughout Yuki’s childhood. Atsushi chats with her son, Hazuki and Rokka’s grandson, and tells him to throw everything in there out.

We’re all for the occasional mysterious or ambiguous ending, but we after all we’d been through (like Hazuki), we wanted nothing less than a good old-fashioned happy ending, and by gum, we got one. And it was everything we could have hoped for. A few last memories of Rokka (when she got drunk, she’d reveal an envy of Atsushi’s talent). Atsushi’s method revolved around flowers as more than just things of fleeting, conventional beauty, but considered their entire life cycle from seed to death andr eturn to the soil. It’s a one-way process, which is probably what makes him realize he can’t stay in the living world and must leave Hazuki’s body, however much seeing Rokka makes him want to stay.

There’s a tense moment when it seems Rokka believes taking her own life and joining him is the solution, he drops the gardening shears. As Hazuki says – powerless at the time to stop what he thinks is happening – that’s not what they’re for. Hazuki’s long, dreamlike daze through Storybook Land caused him to grow and change. He gave up his body in a drunken stupor, convinced Rokka would never love him as much as she loved her late husband. He didn’t know he was inadvertantly giving both Atsuhi and Rokka a gift – the chance to talk one last time and to say good-bye.

We especially liked the simple, quiet but exquisite epilogue, starting with Atsushi floating above the city (no longer trapped in the house), but it’s not long before we’re told both Rokka and Hazuki have passed away – and not too long after each other. Their grown daughter Yuki (a nice combo of Rokka’s hair and Hazuki’s eyes) looks over some photos with her elderly Aunt Miho, and her young son explores the apartment where Rokka and Hazuki lived the rest of their lives. The shop and its surroundings look the same, but the old flowers wilted and died, having planted seeds that bloom in their place.

Rating: 10 (Masterpiece)

RABUJOI World Heritage List

Natsuyuki Rendezvous – 10

Hazuki experiences a role reversal, first by being presented with his own funeral in the picture book world, then confronted by Atsushi in Rokka’s body telling him to accept his fate. Hazuki refuses, so Atsushi transports them to a stormy shore and shoves him off a cliff. Hazuki notices the scenery is more realistic, then realizes he’s in the real world, watching Atsushi in his body having a picnic with Rokka. He Atsushi tells her how long he’s been in Hazuki’s body, and she asks him where the real Hazuki is…

Penultimate episode time: this week was the final set-up in preparation for the finish. Rokka now knows the score: one of the reasons she hasn’t been able to get over her dead husband is that he’s literally been there with her the whole time. In Hazuki’s body, he’s been dropping hints left and right, consciously or not, and meeting him there in the forest was the clincher. Now she knows that Hazuki wasn’t Hazuki when she slept with him. Now that she knows, and has calmed down, she takes all this information pretty well.

But Hazuki is out of the picture book now, floating around barefoot, able to see what’s been done with his body. Finally he can confront Atsushi-as-him face-to-face and demand, plead, beg for him to keep his promise and give his body back. Will he be able to finally do it? Atsushi-as-Hazuki has kept his cards close for a long time about his ultimate intentions; indeed he may not even know himself what the next step is. But Rokka makes it clear that the short-haired, bespectacled Hazuki and “The Hazuki [she] fell in love with” are two separate entities. And she wants to know what happened to that Hazuki. Which should give Hazuki hope.

Rating: 9 (Superior)

Natsuyuki Rendezvous – 09

Atsushi and Rokka and up hiking to the highest place he ever went, a forest where he intends to plant his snow-in-the-summer plant containing some of his bones. Rokka encounters him and realizes it’s Atsushi, who tries to flee, but fails. Rokka collapses in tears at the realization. Meanwhile, Hazuki ends up in a Snow White-style scenario with Rokka in a glass casket. She breaks out to talk with him, and the moment she refers to him as “the prince”, he looks in a reflection and sees Atsushi’s face.

At long last, Rokka finally sees Atsushi through Hazuki. Atsushi made it extremely easy for her, saying and doing things only Atsushi could do. We’re glad this finally happened, because now it’s less of a torture for Rokka trying to parse what the hell has been going on with Hazuki, because he’s been acting awfully strange. Now she understands. After witnessing her overflowing of emotion, even Atsushi admits that he maybe went too far. But what’s done is done.

Is their rendezvous in the same spot of the same forest at the same time awfully tidy coincidence? Perhaps, but it also makes sense in that there weren’t many parts of nature Atsushi ever ventured out to in his life. He was a sickly city boy, after all. This was the one place he got to before the end. Going over their last hiking trip in her head – a painful, beautiful memory –  it made sense that Rokka ended up finding him. But with that final scene, could it be Atsushi got what he needed and has switched places with Hazuki? Maybe??

That aside, this is a phenomenal and moving payoff to everything that had been built up since Atsushi jumped into Hazuki’s body, and even before when he repeatedly pleaded for permission to do so. This is the episode where we’re finally totally okay with that fact that right here and now, Hazuki is just a vessel, and it’s all about Atsushi. He may have pulled some unethical stunt or two to get here, but he had to get here. He needed Rokka to acknowledge him, if only for this one brief time.

Rating: 9 (Superior)

Natsuyuki Rendezvous – 08

Rokka is confused by the sight of bouquets Atsushi made for her, and the fact Atsushi’s journal, tools, and backpack are all missing. She calls Hazuki – still under Atsushi’s control, then has the urge to go backpacking herself, without a finite destination. Meanwhile, Hazuki, under the urging of the mini-Rokka, finally escapes from the undersea scene into a white void…

Well, whaddaya now, Hazuki’s STILL STUCK IN THE DAMN DRAWING. We don’t want to discount the fact that there was a lot more lovely flashbacks of Rokka’s last days with her husband (as well as flashbacks to Hazuki’s earlier dealings with her), but we must confess our enjoyment of this episode was marred somewhat by our hope and expectation (however premature) that we were finally going to get some kind of payoff. But the series was content to keep Hazuki wallowing in the drawing, totally shut off from the real world and what Atsushi’s doing with him.

By the way…what exactly IS Atsushi doing with him, now? He withdrew a bunch of cash from his and Rokka’s bank account and dons a giant backpack supposedly filled with clothes and provisions. One flashback mentions a trip to a faraway place he and Rokka never got to go to. Well fine, but how on earth is Rokka going to track him down? Will it just happen by chance? And even if she does, what is she supposed to make of Hazuki’s actions? Right now she just seems lost, confused, and distraught – not a state you’d think someone who proports to love her would want her to be in for long. Will this series continue teasing us till the end, or will Atsushi ever finally move on for good?

Rating: 7 (Very Good)

Natsuyuki Rendezvous – 07

Hazuki remains trapped while Atsushi continues seducing Rokka, not caring who she thinks she’s spending time with. They go to the sea, spend the night at a hotel, and make love. When Rokka wakes up, Hazuki isn’t there, but Atsushi has left a note with the same unique character he gave her when they exchanged numbers on their first date. Atsushi spends the day making bouquets for Rokka. When Rokka sees them, she’s overcome by emotion, seemingly unsure of which man Hazuki is.

This series has an uncanny ability to consistently keep us in the dark about what’s going to happen next, but it manages this unpredictability with such grace and subtlety, we can hardly complain, and in fact, welcome the surprise. We really thought Atsushi would finally give Hazuki’s body back this time, but he wants a little more time. He’s perpetually aware that his is a “vain struggle” and that resisting the truth of his situation is futile, but he just can’t let go yet. Rokka has opened her heart – and body – for Hazuki, not him. Even in Hazuki’s body, there’s nothing he can do. Well, almost nothing.

Like last week, there was a frustration simmering in the background the whole time Atsushi interacted with Rokka, and once again, Hazuki misses out on a milestone of his currently hijacked relationship. Let this be a lesson to everyone out there: never get drunk around the ghost of the husband of the girl you love. We feel really bad for Hazuki this week – though being underwater and being able to breathe and talk is pretty sweet. We also feel bad for Rokka; she’s being royally messed with by Atsushi. This hasbeen an interesting situation,but we’re hoping the mermaid’s right and this won’t last forever. There are just four episodes left: we hope Hazuki gets his body back soon. Even if no one’s sure who the main character is anymore, we’re still rooting for him.

Rating: 8 (Great)

Natsuyuki Rendezvous – 06

Shimao-as-Hazuki agrees to let Rokka wash his back, but she demurs when he asks her to bath with him. Both frustrated, he leaves, but not before drawing something in his sketchbook. Wanting to clear her head, Rokka spends her Sunday helping Miho tend her garden, but the roses there remind her of Atsushi. She retreats to the library, where Shimao-as-Hazuki happens to bump into her, and they go for a walk, during which time Rokka confesses to him that Atsushi was her first and only love, but now she’s fallen love in with him (Hazuki) too.

Atsushi remains in complete control of Hazuki, until the very last moment of the episode (we…think…?), and in this time, he and Rokka make a lot of headway. If there’s one thing he’s learned from both his time as a ghost observing Hazuki and his time as Hazuki himself, it’s that Hazuki ending up with Rokka is all but inevitable; it’s a matter of when, not if. This is confirmed when she finally confesses to Hazuki – Atsushi is the one to finally get her to say the words…and he’s the one to hear them as well. Learning he was the only man she’s ever loved (or been with) puts a look of shock on his face we’ve heretofore not seen.

Which brings us to the big dilemma of this episode (and last weeks, as well), at least from Hazuki’s perspective: he’s been lost in a pastel fairy tale land all this time, and thus hasn’t experienced any of these crucial moments in his relationship with Rokka. Atsushi half-reluctantly, half-regetably brought his wife closer to him, but will he know that when he wakes up? Will he gain the memories Atsushi formed while possessing him, or will he return to his body totally blank on the last two days? Will these recent events be a secret Atsushi will keep from him, leading to a misunderstanding between the real Hazuki and Rokka? We hope not. Or to put it like Hazuki did: we’re basically optimistic by nature, so we won’t let this bother us.

Rating: 9 (Superior)

Natsuyuki Rendezvous – 05

Atsushi “borrows” Hazuki’s body while Hazuki’s consciousness is stuck in some kind of surreal dreamworld within the pages of one of Atsushi’s sketchbooks he used to draw in while hospitalized. He is accompanied by a fairy-like Rokka. Atsushi has to deal with Hazuki’s poor eyesight, lack of money, small apartment, and unavoidable hunger. Rokka cooks dinner for him, and then asks if she can wash his back.

This entire episode, Atsushi is in control of Hazuki’s body, and while there’s no doubt he’s ecstatic about being able to talk to and touch Rokka (he tears up multiple times, in fact), the inescapable fact is, he’s just as powerless as he was as an invisible ghost. He’s still invisible to Rokka, although she seems to feel his aura. Is it his aura? We’re not sure; this is a metaphysical can of worms. But one thing’s certain: Rokka knows her husband is dead, and would never believe Hazuki’s body telling her he’s back. She’d sooner throw Hazuki out for being so cruel and foolish.

Atsushi initially has a little fun with his control over Hazuki – spending all his money on dorky glasses, then giving him a bad haircut. But the more he’s in Hazuki’s skin, the more he realizes the inevitability of this guy ending up with Rokka. He often talks like he’s not Hazuki, but he never gives away who he is, thus damaging Hazuki and Rokka’s relationship. Why? Maybe he remembers what Hazuki told him: even if he gets rid of him, there are other guys. Rokka is nice (and cute) a human being to live out the rest of her days alone. If Atsushi takes Hazuki away, he won’t just be hurting Hazuki – he’ll be hurting Rokka too.

Rating: 9 (Superior)

Natsuyuki Rendezvous – 04

Hazuki goes on a date with Rokka to Hanayashiki with the mission to get her to smile and laugh like she used to when Atsushi was still alive. While they proceed to have an okay time, Rokka is distracted by memories of when she came here with her late husband, to the point where she even spots his ghost in places. Defeated, Hazuki gets very drunk before returning to Rokka’s for late night tea, and consents to let Atsushi borrow his body. Atsushi rejoices, now able to touch and speak to her.

Thursday’s lineup this summer is a Yin & Yang affair: Binbogami’s the fire, earth, bubblegum soda pop and Red Bull; Natsuyuki Rendezvous is the water and gentle breeze and a fine red wine…or perhaps a cool, frosty Asahi Super Dry. This is Hazuki’s Big Day, and if he can’t get her to laugh – or at least consent to sex – he’ll consider it a failure and he won’t know what to do next. Well, to his surprise (and horror) he does make her laugh by asking if she’ll have sex with him. Her answer – “out of the question” is as devastating as it is vague (and nicely punctuated by a low piano string strike and a pool of blood-like water ice syrup). “Hey, Rokka, I didn’t mean right here and now. I meant in general!

Hindsight is 20/20, but it turned out to be a mistake to bring her to a place that evokes such vivid and powerful memories in Rokka, who hasn’t been there since Atsushi’s death. He could have made her laugh somewhere else, but at Hanayashiki it’s as if Atsushi’s there, only invisible and thus even more insidious. It would have been just fine if the episode ended when the date did, but the show does us one better and has a thoroughly boiled and desperate Hazuki lets Atsushi possess him. This is his plan. Perhaps he feels damned if he does or damned  if he doesn’t. Regardless, this should be interesting!

Rating: 8 

P.S. So, Japanese for “chicken” (as in scared) is…chicken! Sweet!

Natsuyuki Rendezvous – 03

While recovering from her fever, Rokka reminices on the night she met Atsushi, and ended up in a bed, with him doting on her. She faces a similar situation in the present, with Hazuki taking care of her. They share a passionate embrace as an increasingly bitter Atsushi looks on. He starts to shake the room and throw objects at Hazuki, who insists he go rest in peace and leave him and Rokka alone. Even if he’s Rokka’s second choice, he only wants to make her happy. To that end, he asks her out on a date to a theme park; the same place she last went with Atsushi and Miho before he was hospitalized.

Here was another gorgeous and affecting tour-de-force, laced with bitter, sweet, and bittersweet moments. First  of all, who would have thought Rokka’s first night with Atsushi was spent throwing up in a toilet and then passing out drunk? Our ghost is starting to show signs of becoming a poltergeist, which is not a good sign. Atsushi is resorting to violence, and even warns Hazuki he may end up killing him if he doesn’t leave. But Hazuki won’t be cowed so easily. You see, he’s fallen for the super-cute Rokka, and fallen hard. Who can blame her? Those friggin’ eyes; that pixie cut; she’s a beautiful human being inside and out. Hazuki’s challenge is to help both her and Atsushi  to move on. But how?

While at dinner after a day of filling in for Rokka at the shop, Miho tells him about her and her family’s concern for Rokka; they don’t want her to be alone, toiling away at the flower shop the rest of her youth – they’d like to set her up with someone, and maybe even get her out of that shop, or sell it off. Miho tells him Rokka may need a push to move on, so a push he gives her. As for Atsushi; Hazuki’s point about cut flowers being like ghosts created selfishly really resonated with us; it was a great analogy that summed up the situation pretty succintly. In the circle of life, flowers separated from their roots should go to feed their forebears. Even if his mind is still in the living world, Shimao is no longer part of that circle. His continuing to interfere with Rokka’s life does nobody any favors.

Rating: 8 (Great)

Natsuyuki Rendezvous – 02

A week after their ramen date, Hazuki has had difficulty talking to Rokka due to Atsushi’s constant presence at the shop. Finally, he looks through Atsushi and asks her out to dinner. Afterwards she invites him in and things are about to get frisky when Atsushi interenes again; Hazuki blurts out an insult at him that upsets Rokka. She kicks him out, sleeps on the table, and wakes up with a fever, collapsing on the floor. Atsushi cries out and somehow, Hazuki hears him and comes to the rescue. Rokka calls out to Atsushi, apologizing to him.

As their vows stipulated “as long as they both shall live,” why does Shimao Atsushi haunt his former wife, Rokka? Glad you asked! It’s simple: she begged him not to go…so he didn’t; he stayed. And still he stays. Rokka can’t see or hear him, but whenever she’s home or in the shop, he’s there. Does he even have a choice in the matter, or does Rokka keep him there? Ever the practical fellow, he offered her signed divorce papers so she could marry someone she could have a child with. She promptly tore them up in a heartwrenching scene. Now, Rokka is at a crossroads: a cute guy eight years younger than her seems  to want her, at a time when she’s nearly forgotten how to want or be wanted. Is there room in her heart for a living man along with her dead husband?

We like how quickly Hazuki moves with Rokka…it’s very adult. Once he finds his nerve, Hazuki is not one to hesitate. Their chemistry is very nice too – we like the detail about Garlic Breath, Bane of Dates. Rokka, self-conscious about her age and widow status, is being tugged and pulled every which way by her emotions in the midst of this new courtship. Her practical side wants to give in to the advances (while she still can), yet she finds herself pushing him away. Of course, Hazuki hardly help matters by falling for Atsushi’s trap and getting him to open a wound not easily closed. Perhaps next time he should invite Rokka to his place…if there is a next time.

Rating: 9 (Superior)

Natsuyuki Rendezvous – 01

Hazuki Ryuusuke is in love with the neighborhood florist Shimao Rokka, and when a part-time position at her shop becomes available, he takes the job. One day Rokka invites him to her upstairs flat to plan a party for the employee he’s replacing, and he finds a half-naked man in there with her. Meeting him again later at the party, Hazuki learns he is Rokka’s dead husband, Atsushi, and only he can see him. Unfazed, Hazuki confesses to Rokka on her birthday, which is also her wedding anniversary. Hazuki won’t let Atsushi get in the way of his romance.

Ah, we enjoyed this thoroughly. First of all, the characters are adults! Just when we were about to give up all hope that such series still existed. Oh, and they’re not arms-dealing adults either; quite the opposite. They sell flowers, a commodity purchased either as a matter of course (funerals, valentines, mother’s day) or for pure sentiment. Not for killing! It’s a nice tight cast too; Just the protagonist Hazuki, his manager/would-be girlfriend Rokka, her sister-in-law Miho, aaaand…Rokka’s husband’s frikkin’ GHOST. That last one takes this out of the humdrum slice-of-life romance category and gently, subtly into the supernatural.

As a ghost, Atsushi is ridiculously low-key and matter-of-fact, whether he’s conversing with his living rival (something he notices instantly) or floating around the shop, a sight that’s as creepy as it is hilarious. Hazuki wastes no time and confesses to Rokka right here in the first episode, but that’s obviously just the first step in a long and delicate process, one that must – unfortunately for Hazuki – proceed under the observation of the last guy Rokka loved. Which should be fun to watch!

Rating: 9 (Superior)

Car Cameo:
The first car we see in the alley isn’t readily identifiable, but in another shot we spotted the spacious, practical Honda Stepwgn.

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