A Film a Week - Love Life / Rabu raifu

 previously published on Asian Movie Pulse

Japanese filmmaker Koji Fukada is back with another middle-class (melo)drama about common people in uncommon life situations. “Love Life” premiered at Venice and after that went on the tour of festivals. We caught it at the special screening at Zagreb Film Festival.

Taeko (Fumino Kimura, very active on television recently) and her husband Jiro (Kento Nagayama, also predominantly TV actor) live a peaceful life. At the beginning, their mood could be seen as celebratory, since they are throwing a party for his stern father’s 65th birthday, and also celebrating her son Keita’s local Othello championship title. However, Jiro’s father has a hard time accepting the fact that his son married a divorcee with a child from her previous marriage.

A sudden tragedy resulting in Keita’s accidental death starts the spiral of events. Firstly, Keita’s biological father Park (Atom Sunada) suddenly appears at the funeral and Taeko has the urge to do her best to help this troubled deaf homeless Korean man. At the same time, Jiro’s parents plan to move outside the city and enlist their son to help them transport the stuff to their new property. While Jiro gets the chance to reconnect with his ex-girlfriend after a chance meeting in the countryside, Taeko takes an effort to help Park get back on his feet.

Love Life is a film about people who are far from perfect, driven by their messy feelings to make bad, impulsive decision and take actions that would result in even greater mess. However, there is a bit of gentleness in the portrait of a couple of introverted lovers who could spend endless seconds together without feeling the need to look each other in the eye and address a subject that bothers them both. Taeko and Jiro are clearly fond of each other, but their love has its roots in respect rather than passion.

On his part, Koji Fukada directs the film with a gentle touch. Two of the scenes in the film are proper masterpieces: Keita’s tragedy happening largely off-screen and Park’s showing up on his son’s funeral shot in a few wide shots. Both of them maximize the emotional effect using the simple, almost minimal means. Some other important scenes in the film are also drawn property, showing a lot of method in Fukada’s directorial approah.

The seasoned filmmaker also does well in the terms of directing actors. The relative lack of stardom within the cast (Tomoro Taguchi playing Jiro’s father is probably the only cast member that would be easily recognized) is not a problem, since Fukada insists on commonness of the characters and fits the actors well against the setting of the unnamed big city and its residential blocks of buildings. The interplay between the actors along the lines of psychological realism with occasional outbursts of high-register emotions serves the film well. This could also be said for Hideo Yamamoto’s discreet cinematography, Olivier Goinard’s score and the smooth, meditative editing by Fukada and Sylvie Lager.

“Love Life” might be small on the scale of actions, but it is quite big when it comes to the emotions it deals with.

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