It’s no secret that shounen ai stories are a little on the hit and miss side with far more missing the mark or falling into standard BL tropes such as non-consensual sex or dominant and submissive personalities (such as Dakaichi and similar stories present). So when a movie like Umibe no Étranger, or The Stranger by the Shore, comes along it’s kind of nice just to watch two male characters falling in love.
However, Umibe no Étranger also misses the emotional mark with 59 minutes being long enough to give us a sense of beauty for the setting, an outline of who these characters are and some of what they are overcoming, as well as one night where things get steamy before we get to a resolution of sorts but it isn’t long enough to really leave any kind of memorable impression other than being nice enough and kind of pretty.
Who is Umibe no Étranger for?
Which made me wonder who this movie was for and ultimately I guess it is fans of the source material, assuming it perhaps fills in some of the gaps (though I’ve never read it so wouldn’t know). The movie itself offers a sketched picture of these characters but ultimately their past and troubles are touched upon and then we move on and their relationship progresses without any real obstacles outside of Shun himself.
While it all works it isn’t a particularly satisfying or memorable experience and you get to the end of Umibe no Étranger with a clear image of flowers growing around a bench, straw hats that won’t stay on heads, and cute cats that lounge about the house, and little impression of the story or characters themselves.
It would be like watching the Given movie without having first watched the series. By itself, the 59 minutes movie just isn’t enough to really be invested in the characters.
Anyway, Stranger by the Shore focuses on Shun, who we learn is gay and a writer and as the story progresses we realise he was bullied at school, has never actually had a real relationship, and when he did come out to his parents it didn’t end well. Though potentially timing was the problem there as he seemed to leave it until pretty much his wedding to his childhood friend before telling them.
Shun is living with his aunt and happens to see Mio sitting on a bench by the beach at night. After watching him a few times, Shun approaches him and eventually learns that Mio’s mother has died and the high school student is now on his own. The two kind of instantly get into the close and blushy stage of their relationship before Mio announces he’s going to an orphanage on the mainland.
We jump 3 years and 20 year old Mio returns and more or less declares that he’s in love with Shun.
This is kind of the main problem with the entirety of Umibe no Étranger. The relationship just kind of happens and we never see these two spending time getting to know one another. The movie ends and I still don’t know what either character likes about the other or even if they know anything about each other.
Conflict is created in the story more or less only by Shun pushing Mio away. We later learn that he was doing this because he didn’t want Mio because of the way when people in society would view their relationship and really his resistance lasts as long as one actual argument, a teary phone call and then one made dash through a convenient rain storm before the two are in a relationship.
Further conflict is attempted in Umibe no Étranger by introducing Sakurako, Shun’s former fiancée but given most of her actions seem drive to driving the two boys together this one barely counts and mostly just pads the run time and gives us a few flashbacks to Shun’s childhood.
Honestly, the story could work fine as is given Umibe no Étranger labels itself a slice of life and that really is what we are getting, the day to day of these boys on the island. However, I just can’t help but want this movie to do more with these characters and the relationship and really just commit to telling a story rather than idling about.
Of course, even without a driving narrative, The Stranger by the Shore is beautiful to look at. The shore line itself is basically its own character and we return to the bench where the two characters first met again and again in different seasons and under different skies.
Likewise the support cast is pleasant enough though we also learn little about anybody in this story. The Aunt Shun lives with runs a café and supports the characters but otherwise I couldn’t tell you a thing about her. Eri and Suzu are super sweet and their relationship is lovely, but other than Eri being a meddler, again, I couldn’t tell you one concrete fact about her.
Even Mio, who is one of our main characters, remains more or less vague. He has some trauma with the loss of his parents and that motivates him later in the movie to encourage Shun to repair his own relationship. Otherwise I don’t actually know what Mio likes, at age 20 what he’s wanting to do for a living, or literally anything about him.
He met Shun and then thought about him for 3 years before returning to the island to declare his love. But what were his plans beyond that? There’s a massive void where his actual character should be and while he’s pleasant enough, gets embarrassed at times, gets angry at times and does what he needs to, he’s not a character I’ll remember after writing this review because there’s practically nothing to remember.
For 59 minutes Umibe no Étranger a pleasant enough escape experience provided you enjoy a shounen ai story and aren’t put off by a same sex couple having a sex scene.
However it isn’t a movie that must be watched and ultimately it will probably just be forgotten as it is neither strong enough as a story to be remembered or contentious enough to be discussed beyond the initial watching.
However, as always, I’d love to know your thoughts so if you watched Umibe no Étranger be sure to leave me a comment below.
Images from: Umibe no Étranger. Dir A Oohashi. Studio Hibari. 2020
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