Film Review: Love My Life (2006, Japan)
Erm… No it doesn’t
"In our game, the person you fall in love with is not always the one you can give yourself to."
This is the sixth film in my series of Gay and Lesbian Asian Cinema… Although, I have to admit that the current renaissance in Mainstream Asian Lesbian cinema has piqued my interest to the point where I’m finding it difficult to make time for the gay stuff.
This light, 2006, Japanese production by Kawano Koji is set in present day Tokyo and tells the tale of a young and wealthy lesbian couple, currently going through university.
Ichiko and Eri are two happily involved university students that seem to have the perfect relationship. They are both beautiful, intelligent, well bred (!?) and well heeled. And most importantly, they are also madly in love with each other.
Ichiko is the dreamer of the pair. The light hearted optimist. The playful one… The cutesy wootsy one. She comes from a very (VERY) liberal, Apple Mac using family with an extremely cool single father who absolutely considers her the most important thing in his life after the death of his wife, Ichiko’s mother, some years before.
Eri is the serious beauty, the forward thinking one from a highly competetive family of [probably PC using] lawyers who wants to be a lawyer herself, just to prove to her bigoted father and sexist brother that women have the balls to be lawyers, too.
As can be expected, their differences of upbringing, outlook and social layer starts to strain their relationships and they take a break from each other.
During this time apart, they both learn things about themselves. Eri tries to find what she really wants from life, wile Ichiko tries to become less selfish and childish, more responsible for herself and gets herself a job working as a book reviewer for her father’s company.
How do they cope with all the pressure society puts on them? Does Eri manage to kick her self righteous father in the crown jewels and send a blow through male dominated lawdom or does she realise it’s not her dream to be a lawyer? Does Ichiko manage to grow up and cast off her perpetual puberty? Can the couple weather the storm…. Can they get back together? Do you actually care enough to keep watching?
After having watched four outstandingly good films in this genre, I approached this one with less research going in than the others. http://AfterEllen.com, an online Lesbian authority if ever there was one, gave this film a reasonably good writeup, and having not watched a Japanese lesbian film, I figured this would be the place to start.
To be honest, I was looking forward to watching a film where I could feel the dialogue firsthand rather than having to rely on dodgy subtitles to convey the director’s intentions.
So I pressed play… And then pressed pause after about a minute just to confirm I wasn’t watching a soft porn HBO production. The titillating, saliva drenched bonbon swapping of our lingerie clad dream couple in the first scene of this movie is a work of soft focus soft porn worthy of any a man’s “special interest” video collection.
More than the scene itself was the absolute superfluousness of it. I came to suspect two things at this point.
1) The director was male: Because the sheer, blatant two dimensional flesh factor was not in any way up there with the three modern day mainstream films I’d just watched, namely Red Doors, Saving Face and of course, Butterfly.
2) The director was previously a porno director: His attention to the flesh, lighting, focus angles and of course, the actions of the two actresses suggested to me a certain familiarity with the subject matter that went beyond NHK daytime TV.
When I finally researched, I realised that the above two points were true. He was indeed a softcore porn director prior to directing this film.
Still, there is only one film I’ve ever stopped halfway through and that was Dancer in the Dark staring Bjork, a film so hopelessly depressing and dark that it can swallow viewers’ sense of well-being like a black hole and required me to watch three Monty Pythons and an episode of Mr. Bean to recover. Thus I decided to strive onwards.
You could build fences out of main characters’ dialogues they were so wooden. I found myself hiding my face in my hands. I don’t know whether the subtitles will protect you from the pain of their piss-poor acting.
Ichiko struck me a sort of 22 coming on 12. Her character was stuck at puberty, with dialogue appropriate of that age. Eri was a bit more grown up.
Even Ichiko’s extremely hip, translator and literary critic, Mac using father who has the disturbing penchant for referring to himself in the third person treats her like a secondary school kid, albeit an outed lesbian one with an appetite for wet bonbons. Except of course, fathers – even renowned translators – would rarely give their dearest a hetero novel about phone sex to translate as their first test job!
Eri was little better and her father was much worse. Take your stereotypical yuppie. Multiply by stereotypical lawyer and mix in a dash of stereotypical sexist bigot and you’ve just about summed up his two minutes of screen time. Horrific stuff.
Still, there were a few redeeming moments which allowed me to justify the time I was spending watching the film.
The scene where Ichiko meets her father’s secret lover over lunch one day is just superb. I can feel them both squirming for something appropriate to say, but finding nothing forthcoming, they resort to mutually inoffensive small talk. Great camera angles, great, vast open spaces between jittery dialogue. Very uncomfortable, very very funny!
Then there’s Ichiko’s best friend Take who is gay. He pulls of a nice, understated performance. Why can’t the main actors act like him for heaven’s sake. He’s believable, cute, insanely likable and most importantly, fully 3D. His own problems appear so much more real than the main pair’s self inflicted angst that I just wanted him to slap them and tell them to grow up.
Then there was the surprise character of Yukako, a dippy classmate who appeared at first to be the class snoop, but ended up being far more enjoyable.
And did I mention that Ichiko’s father was an Apple Mac user? He fits the mould perfectly: Handsome, cool, funny, understanding, compassionate, liberal, alternative lifestyle lover… Yes quite. Still, he’s very entertaining in the same way Justin Long (the Mac) is entertaining in the “I’m a PC, and I’m a Mac” ads.
i.e. supposed to be cool, but comes off a little annoying.
Then there’s the random butch lesbian crush / love interest from… somewhere… Who Ichiko falls for before she disappears from whence she came… But not before one of the longest lesbian screen kisses I’ve seen in quite some time… Nope… Make that the longest single lesbian kiss shot I’ve ever seen in a “real” film.
Again, this one scene by a really minor character eclipses anything the two overproduced, sugar coated bonbons can offer us, whether it’s sheer power and presence of the punky grrl or the awkward way Ichiko has absolutely no ides what to do with her hands or just plain “Yee Har! way to go!!!”.
If you haven’t guessed it, I didn’t think too highly of this movie. Why not? The plot is fairly standard, but then, so are Saving Face and Red Doors. No. This movie fails not because of it’s foot-bath-like shallow plot, or the lack of character build up, or the lack of outstanding humour or the absence of coherent social comment or even the ironically atypical number of stereotypes or even anything else to do with the story per se.
What kills this movie stone dead is the “Made for TV” or even worse, “Made for Video” production quality, wooden acting, the seriously lame titillation and the really gay main characters. And I mean “gay” in this case not referring to their sexual orientations, but as a gay pal of mine amusingly used the word once to describe something I might have referred to euphemistically as “somewhat below par”.
Yes the film is cute, the characters cuddly, the ending all nice and warm-like and it does have its moments, but really everything else is stacked against it. Perhaps this is one of those “chick flicks” that jaundiced male members of the audience often refer to.
Obligatory doe eyed closeup “Twoshot”.
Huh? What’s this? A cunning Faustian juxtaposition of object and subject relative to the surrounding paradigm? No, it’s just Eri and Ichiko, this time taking a “Twoshot” of themselves.
Then of course, there’s the gratuitous money shots of the two fine actresses(‘ bodies) naked and gleaming although tastefully obscured since this is softcore… remember?… which I won’t include here.
Oh, and they love tonguing sweets to each other… so as a booby prize for those expecting the naked shots, I’ll just include this completely egregious outtake from the first scene of the film.
I tried to like this movie. I wanted to like it, really. It’s a lighthearted romantic comedy with a gorgeous cast and some great moments, but just I can’t understand how respectable journals can rate this as anything other than amateur hour LGBT theatre. This is a one episode Fuji TV drama, not a film.
Or perhaps I’m just too jaundiced, jaded, bitter and twisted to enjoy a shallow love story about girl gets girl, girl loses girl, girl gets girl back again on steroids malarky.
I’m holding my right hand out horizontally with thumb and little finger spread out and tilting my hand from side to side in the universal symbol of “undecided”, “so-so”, “touch and go” or just plain MYEEH!