The Stranger by the Shore is a tedious bit of filler.
I’m going to state that opinion upfront, because I’ve seen a lot of reviews that sing its praises. There are a lot of people who seem to genuinely think this movie is a credit to its genre, and they aren’t exactly wrong. The problem is that that’s a damning criticism of boys’ love as a whole, not a point in the favor of this movie.
Boys’ love has a number of glaring flaws. One of the biggest is the fact that, as a genre targeted primarily towards young women who find the fetishization of queer men an acceptable kink, it has a tendency to. Well. Fetishize queer men. This means that a lot of BL media involves very questionable age gaps, unhealthy power dynamics, sexual assault, and just a lot of graphic sex, generally speaking – both consensual and otherwise. All of which is portrayed as not merely acceptable, but generally desirable, and a staple of queer relationships. BL as a genre has a tendency to treat queer men not as people in a relationship, but as sex toys placed there for a largely female audience by largely female creators to get their jollies off on.
It also has an unfortunate tendency to find all of its character drama in homophobia, both internal and external, and usually treats having copious amounts of sex as the solution to both versions.
The Stranger by the Shore doesn’t do most of that, which puts it head and shoulders above a lot of the BL media that ends up exported to the West. Shun and Mio are people, and they are more or less treated as people, although they’re also fairly static characters and both have an unfortunate tendency not to wait for any hint of consent before kissing the other when they’re in the middle of emotionally precarious conflicts. While their relationship isn’t particularly interesting, it is still the focus of the story, for better and worse. The drama is entirely built from Shun’s internalized homophobia, but it’s something he has to start getting over before the first time they have sex, which is, thankfully, far more tame than you might expect from the genre, although it still goes on for way too long in my completely unbiased opinion.
And now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s talk about this uninspired hour of white noise.
The Stranger on the Shore is the movie adaptation of the manga L’étranger de la Plage by Kanna Kii, released by Fuji TV’s BL label, Blue Lynx. It’s about the relationship between Hashimoto Shun, a gay novelist living in Okinawa, and Chibana Mio, a young man who has recently lost his mother when the movie begins.
Shockingly (but not really), very few of the emotional beats are about Mio’s recent loss. In fact, the movie skips ahead three years after their first meeting, so as to focus solely on the issues that Shun’s internalized homophobia and Gay Trauma bring to the beginnings of their relationship. Which would be fine if it was well-integrated into some sort of overarching plot, but that’s really all there is to it. Even the introduction of Shun’s ex-fiancée, his disinheritance by his parents, and Shun and Mio’s ultimate decision to return to Hokkaido together to care for his dying father are treated more like afterthoughts, reluctantly included to form the idea of a larger story than actually providing one.
There’s a lot of genuinely intriguing character drama that can be found in the way a society traumatizes its queer youth, and a lot of heartwarming potential in two characters learning how to have a relationship despite their internalized bigotries. Instead, we get an hour in which the movie tries so desperately to keep its tone from being too dark that it barely has a tone at all. The soundtrack, bless its heart, does its best to carry the emotional beats, but it’s simply too weak for that kind of heavy lifting; a task made all the more difficult for it by the fact the voice acting only has two settings: painfully earnest, or utterly bored by the whole situation.
And here’s the thing; I am a queer adult in America. I have been through the influx of forgettable Films™ about overcoming internalized homophobia by Loving the Right Person that comes as part of the Queer Journey, both on a personal and social level. I am tired of boring movies where the only real conflict comes from queerphobia. Hell, at this point I’m tired of good movies where the conflict comes from queerphobia. The only thing I want from Queer Media™ is for it to stop being a valid way of categorizing things; failing that, I would at least like for them to have more story than the mere idea of queer trauma. I get that they can be essential to changing social norms. I’m super happy that straight people are interested in the ways we suffer for their bigotry. Really, that’s great for them. And I am genuinely glad that there are films and shows and books out there for closeted or questioning kids who are desperate for a glimpse of themself in the world.
I know there are people out there who will find The Stranger by the Sea to be a truly touching, revelatory story. Ten years ago, I might have been one. Unfortunately, it has been ten years since then, and all I got from this movie was the feeling my time would have been better spent doing almost anything else.
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