Sitting right up on one of the northernmost corners of Japan, Hokkaido is generally known for two things: great dairy and lots and lots of snow. With its cooler climate and rugged untamed mountains, it is often perceived as “Japan’s Siberia” — an assumption we dare to say is neither fair nor correct. Once the warmer months roll in and the snow melts away, this prefecture is revealed for what it really is: an untouched pocket of breathtaking vibrant natural beauty.
Transforming with the passing seasons, Hokkaido is an undeniably picturesque destination year-round, with a near-perfect climate and endless seas of flora and fauna. If you’ve ever flirted with the idea of taking a trip to Hokkaido in the warmer months, be sure to watch the following three films, each set along the backdrop of the untouched and unforgettable corners of Hokkaido.
1. Dear My Love (６０歳のラブレター)
Dear My Love is the film adaptation of an anthology of letters collected by a major Japanese financial holding company for a project that called for elderly couples to express their usually uncommunicated love and appreciation for their partners. Charting the intimate moments shared by couples, the book’s first-person stories intimately document the often overlooked and hidden side of mature Japanese romantic love. The movie version follows one couple, businessman Kohei and devoted full-time housewife Chihiro who decide to divorce at retirement age.
The film explores a number of unconventional territories — life after retirement, life after middle age and how to navigate your way around the world after the multiple career titles you once used to identify yourself with have been ripped away.
The backdrop of these complicated life struggles is the film’s incredible cinematography which shows a refreshingly different side of Hokkaido. Instead of fields of blinding white snow, the film focuses on Hokkaido’s picturesque Furano lavender fields and draws metaphoric parallels between the blossoming of Hokkaido’s lavender and the rebirth that comes with big life changes. The last scene brings all these blossoms and feelings together to form a memorable (and heartwarming) ending that will surely stay with you for long after you’ve watched the movie.
Dear My Love was so highly regarded for its encapsulation of Hokkaido’s vibrant beauty that following its release in 2009, the Kamifurano Hinode Lavender Garden staged a summer dedication to the film’s last scene. If you’re in Hokkaido in late spring to late summer, the Furano flower fields are one stunning sight you can’t miss.
Main cast: Mieko Harada, Masatoshi Nakamura
Director: Yoshihiro Fukagawa
2.Star Watching Dog (星守る犬)
Based on the popular Takashi Murakami manga, Star Watching Dog is a human drama set in Hokkaido’s ruggedly beautiful, rural countryside. The body of an unnamed middle-aged man and his loyal dog are discovered inside a car situated in a campground on a Hokkaido mountainside. A young local city hall employee by the name of Kyosuke Okutsu is assigned the unenviable task of investigating the death and identity of the man in order to provide him with a proper funeral.
While investigating the scene, Kyosuke finds a thrift store receipt inside the car, a key to unearthing the history of this mysterious individual and his faithful companion. Living vicariously through the man’s experience by the way of the investigation, Kyosuke makes his way along Hokkaido’s countryside, slowly piecing together tiny snippets of information and ultimately uncovering the heartbreaking story of what ultimately became the late man’s last trip across the country. During his investigation, Kyosuke is reminded of his own past, and the loyalty and friendship he himself experienced as a young boy bonding with his dog Kuro, who would spend hours in the nearby sunflower fields seemingly contemplating the stars.
Set along the breathtaking untamed natural beauty of Hokkaido and its verdant mountains, rolling fields, vibrant golden sunflowers, and open blue skies, this film is
an exploration of companionship, loneliness, and the universal experiences we all face in our lives. You will find that the ever-changing island sceneries serve as metaphors for the beauty and uncertainty of life.
Main cast: Toshiyuki Nishida, Tetsuji Tamayama
Director: Tomoyuki Takimoto
3.Koshien Photo 0.5 in the Summer (写真甲子園 0.5秒の夏)
If there were such thing as the photography Olympics, Japan, home to a population of shutterbugs and the most advanced photographic innovators alike, would arguably take first place. The perfect cinematic example of this, Koshien Photo 0.5 in the Summer is an exploration of the beauty of the countryside and the nation’s love of photography.
Capturing the beauty of Hokkaido through the lens of the film’s main protagonists, the film follows the story of a collective of high school students all competing in the “Shashin (Photo) Koshien,” a national high school photography tournament held annually in Hokkaido.
Hailing from Kansai, Tokyo, Okinawa, and Sapporo, talented competing students find themselves in the picturesque town of Higashikawa, situated in central Hokkaido at the base of Daisetsuzan National Park. Featuring untouched scenic beauty, and bizarre and beautiful natural wonders, the area is not short of photographic fodder, but that doesn’t mean capturing the perfect shot is easy.
Starring some of Japan’s brightest young talents, the film was released just late last year and is an interesting take on the typical coming of age high school narrative. If you’ve ever wanted to take a trip through the hidden beauty of Hokkaido without leaving the comfort of your sofa, then this is the film for you. But be wary — watching will definitely infect you with a serious case of wanderlust.
Main cast: Natsuki Kasa, Kyra Shirahase, Shouma Kai
Director: Hiroshi Sugawara
Featuring love and romance, heartbreak, and the trials and tribulations of coming of age, each of these three films reveal the diversity of Hokkaido’s landscape from three very different perspectives, with the beauty of Hokkaido tying it all together. From the romantic lavender fields of summer, the hopeful golden, sunflower carpeted hills and the secretively scenic surrounds of the central inland area, the unique cinematic beauty of Hokkaido is quite unlike anywhere else in the world. If you have the chance to visit, book your flight now as the island’s best season is just around the corner!
Text by Lucy Dayman