Wednesday, August 30, 2017

JFFSF ’17: Love and Goodbye and Hawaii

In a way, breaking up is also a form of commitment, because it will most likely close one set of doors pretty definitely. Rinko and Isamu are not sure they are ready for that. They called it quits six months ago, but they are still happily living together. Obviously, this situation is not sustainable. When Isamu finally starts to hesitantly explore a relationship with another woman, it prompts great soul-searching on Rinko’s part in Shingo Matsumura’s Love and Goodbye and Hawaii (trailer here), which screens during the 2017 Japanese Film Festival of San Francisco.

Rinko the office worker and Isamu the grad student are quite civilized about their break-up. They had been living in his apartment, but given the cost of rent in Tokyo and Rinko’s desire to save money for a friend’s destination wedding in Hawaii, he quite reasonably let her stay on as a roommate. For a while, this works out quite well. They still speed-walk together and eat out at restaurants, but since they no longer have relationship stuff to worry about, they no longer fight.

At least, that is how things were for a while. When Kasumi, a pretty grad student starts showing and interest in Isamu and he starts reciprocating, Rinko feels threatened and inadvertently starts picking fights again. Before long, the atmosphere gets so tense, she must finally move out, but she only has a friend’s couch to temporarily crash on. As she deals with her near-homelessness and the heartaches of her friend’s younger sister (and co-couch crasher), Rinko finally faces up to her feelings and decides whether or not she will fight for Isamu.

Love etc is a deceptively simple but distinctly Japanese movie. It is sort of what we might expect if Hirokazu Kore-eda rewrote and remade a sappy break-up rom-com like Forgetting Sarah Marshall or the Vince Vaughn vehicle, The Break-Up. It is a quiet film, but its emotions get rather messy and they will not necessarily be resolved to everyone’s satisfaction.

In fact, this is quite an unequal movie relationship, with Rinko getting considerably more screen time than Isamu. She also seems to have more complicated feelings and Aya Ayano expresses them all with delicately subtle shadings. She makes all of Rinko’s flaws painfully clear, but we can also see why she is so hard to break-up with. In contrast, Kentaro Tamura is rather workmanlike as Isamu, but he has some nice moments expressing his passion for Japanese literature. However, one of the film’s surprise pleasures is Momoka Ayukawa, giving the film a slightly goofy, slightly saucy heart as the somewhat romantically-challenged sister of Rinko’s friend.

Matsumura captures the cool, crispness of early spring in suburban Tokyo, while the expressive songs of YeYe (a singer-songwriter known for accompanying herself on multiple instruments via overdubbing) further recalls the vibe of Kore-eda films like Still Walking. It is an exquisitely sad and lovely film. Very highly recommended, Love and Goodbye and Hawaii screens Sunday afternoon (9/3) as part of this year’s JFFSF, which is offering a slate of really high quality films, including Rage, Bakuman, The Projects, Tokyo Night Sky is Always the Densest Shade of Blue, Napping Princess (a.k.a. Ancien and the Magic Tablet), and Your Name.