Shun Nakahara’s The Cherry Orchard (Sakura no sono) is not a direct adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s play. Instead, it adapts a manga about a group of school girls producing the play. We follow the cast through the rehearsal hall. A scandal has threatened their opening night. A romance is blooming in the wings. The film takes the rueful tone of Chekhov’s writing. This makes it a sharp contrast to the theater kid hunger of modern teen shows. It’s a great showcase for a talented young cast.
It’s not plot driven. But I’ll attempt a spoiler filled recap.
Act One: A Scandal
Scene One: School Yard
BOYFRIEND: What’s tonight’s play about?
STAGE MANAGER: This aristocrat has squandered her fortune. She’s forced to sell her family home. There’s lost youth, class war, unrequited love. It’s hard to summarize in a glib recap.
BOYFRIEND: Kiss me.
STAGE MANAGER: Not in public. This school is full of shady gossips.
Scene Two: Rehearsal Hall
GOSSIPS: We hate your new perm.
YUKO (rebellious): It isn’t for you.
STAGE MANAGER: Where is everybody?
GOSSIPS: Chiyoko’s been freaking out since she forgot her lines. Sugiyama got arrested for smoking. And now Principal Dour is threatening to cancel the play!
Scene Three: Ice Cream Break
STAGE MANAGER: Principal Dour says it doesn’t matter if the show closes. It will come back next year. Like the cherry blossoms. But our teacher reminded him that the seniors will be gone! Like the cherry blossoms. Our youth is slipping away. Like the…
YUKO: Sugiyama! What happened?
SUGIYAMA (cynical): I got caught smoking with the cool girls from Rebel High. I’m sorry everyone.
YUKO: Don’t apologize to these shady gossips.
GOSSIPS: Who, us?
Act Two: Love Triangle
Scene Four: Dressing Room
YUKO: The play’s back on!
CHIYOKO (high strung): I should be leading man. I hate playing the leading lady. I hate wearing a dress.
YUKO: I’ve brought you a collar and a broach. It will hide your… curves.
(Yuko seductively sews the collar on Chiyoko’s dress.)
CHIYOKO: I… thank you… but I CAN’T DO THIS PLAY!
(Chiyoko sets off the fire alarm and flees.)
Scene Five: Alleyway
COOL GIRLS: Hey chick. You still in trouble?
SUGIYAMA: Nah. Give me a smoke.
COOL GIRLS: Who’s that groovy girl you like?
SUGIYAMA: Yuko. She plays the maid. I play her boyfriend.
Scene Six: Courtyard
YUKO: There’s no fire. The play’s still happening. You okay?
YUKO: I’m in love with you. Is that okay?
CHIYOKO: Yeah. Let’s take a picture! Get in closer.
(Yuko sets up a camera. The girls get closer, and closer, until they’re cheek to cheek. They smile.)
SUGIYAMA (Watching from a distance): Damn.
Act Three: It’s Showtime
Scene Seven: Rest Room
PRINCIPAL DOUR: What are you young ladies doing?
COOL GIRLS: Chill daddy-o. We’re just smoking.
PRINCIPAL DOUR: Give me your ID cards. Now.
(The girls flee. Principal Dour chases them and trips on the stairs.)
COOL GIRLS: Is he dead? Who cares. It’s time for the show.
Scene Eight: The Wings
STAGE MANAGER: You know, this whole day has vaguely mirrored the events of Chekhov’s play.
YUKO: Not really.
STAGE MANAGER: Break a leg!
(Yuko walks on stage and the play begins.)
There are more characters than I could capture here. The film checks in with all of the cast members. At one point Nakahara simply pulls the camera back and lets us watch them all mill about the theater. They form into cliques based on age and temperament. The social dynamics on display are complex and nuanced. Their approach to same sex attraction is interesting too. Some speak openly of their crushes. Chiyoko even has a small fan club who attend all her plays. But the word “lesbian” is only used once when a queer coded character insists that she isn’t one.
In 2008 Shun Nakahara directed a sequel. A burnt-out transfer student organizes a drama club. Their production of The Cherry Orchard reawakens her artistic ambitions. The screenplay focuses on a singular protagonist with a clear hero’s journey. It’s fine. But I prefer the ambitious structure of the 1990 film. Maybe the film could have shaken things up with another Chekhov play. How about an all-girl Uncle Vanya?
You can find more of my reviews on The Avocado, Letterboxd and Serializd. My podcast, Rainbow Colored Glasses, can be found here.