Romantic films generally depict relationships and love in an unrealistic way. The male and female protagonists coincidentally meet each other at the right place at the right time and then they fall in love as if it is their destiny. The couple overcome obstacles and declare their love, and the film ultimately ends with a typical “they lived happily ever after” scene. Isshin Inudo’s 2003 film Josee, The Tiger and The Fish and Marc Webb’s 2009 film (500) Days of Summer also combine themes of coincidence and fate; however they refuse to conform to the convention of romantic genre. They point out how people easily fool themselves to misunderstand coincidence as fate. Mainly through the male protagonist’s perspective, these two films display how romance can fail and how love is reevaluated after the end of a relationship.
In the opening scenes of (500) Days of Summer an omniscient narrator warns us, “this is a story of boy meets girl. But you should know upfront, this is not a love story”. We are then introduced to the male protagonist, Tom, who looks miserable and devastated due to the breakup with his girlfriend. As a twist on stereotypical gender roles, Tom Hansen is the one who falls in love with Summer Finn at first sight. Tom confesses that he believes in soul mates, yet Summer tells him upfront, that she does not believe in such fantastical concepts. Tom is nonetheless convinced that she is his destiny, and this intense feeling propel him forward and makes him harder to understand why Summer, the girl of his dreams, broke up with him.
Like most failed relationships, Tom holds onto only the good memories. He recalls, for example, the morning after he spent the night with Summer. The film effectively reflects his happiness through a musical scene. Tom joyfully emerges from his apartment building with the soundtrack “You Make My Dreams” playing in the background. Water jets from the fountain (mirrors his bursting emotions), strangers smile at Tom and shakes hand with him. Tom even dances with the whole crowd of people dressed in blue, a color usually associated with purity and sincerity. For Tom, who grew up believing that he’d never truly be happy until the day he meets the “one”, it seems like the whole universe is encouraging his relationship with Summer.
Tom gradually learns that he can’t hold onto this fantasy. The complete realization comes when he shows up for a party that Summer is hosting. The plot unfolds in split-screen, contrasting the screen projecting Tom’s hopeful expectations with that of the heartbreaking reality. The gap between the two gradually widens, to the point where Tom hastily leaves the party. He becomes aware of the fact that he and Summer will not reunite. Afterwards, Tom becomes mature and rebuilds himself. Tom stops himself from indulging in self-pity, blaming Summer for failing to be his soul mate and meets another woman. This doesn't necessarily imply that he has given up on true love, he still believes in it. He now knows that any romance can end, no matter how much passionate it was. However, Tom doesn’t hesitate to start a new relationship.
Josee, The Tiger and The Fish opens with a series of snapshots with a voice-over of the male protagonist Tsuneo. In his retrospective moods, he talks about a trip he went with a girl named Josee. The film then goes back to the time when the two first meet by chance and become close friends. Josee, has been crippled most of her life. She lives with her overprotective grandmother who looks after her but regards her as “damaged goods”. Josee seems to also believe that nothing, not even love, can be done to make her life better. The camera often shows her spending time in a closed closet in close-up shots. A small lamp throws a warm light on her face, emphasizing her content in retreating to her own little world. Yet, confined by the closet walls, and surrounded by stacks of books, she looks lonely at the same time. Tsuneo, a college student in his early twenties, is more like Tom from (500) Days of Summer in terms of inmaturity. Tsuneo is more interested in girls than in his studies. Although Tsuneo has feelings for another girl–Kanae–he met from school, he frequently visits Josee. Tsuneo doesn’t make the final step in starting a romantic relationship with her until Josee’s grandmother passes away. Tsuneo promises to stay with her forever. At least at that time, Tsuneo thinks it’s his responsibility, or fate, to “fix” Josee.
Although Josee and Tsuneo grow closer, Tsuneo notices that Josee is starting to feel like a burden with the passing of time. He recollects, “There were many reasons why we broke up. But, actually, there was only one. I ran away.” Tsuneo, who has thoughtlessly believed that he can be with Josee forever, runs away and returns to his old girlfriend, Kanae. Despite the sadness, the breakup scene is shot flatly. We see Tsuneo in a long shot, brought to his knees, crying. Cars rapidly pass by him, as if the world doesn’t care about his feeling of loss. Tsuneo faces the harsh reality, his life without Josee and the possibility of never seeing her again. Only after he leaves Jossee behind, Tsuneo fully realizes that his feelings weren’t based on charity, but on true love. Tsuneo has changed; he is is able to differentiate love from lust or charity. He understands true love, and the responsibility that follows it.
Most of our relationships in the real world do not end up in happy endings such as in Pretty Woman (1990) or Serendipity (2001). We rather find ourselves in (500) Days of Summer and Josee and Josee, The Tiger and The Fish, making the wrong choices or following our instincts and emotions that often results in something we didn't expect.