Saturday, June 05, 2021

Koji Fukada’s The Real Thing

Rom-com tropes like the “meet cute” and the “manic pixie dream girl” are not very realistic. You certainly wouldn’t expect to find them in a Koji Fukada film, especially one that is nearly four hours long, even if it is based on a popular manga series. However, in his hands, the presentation of these romantic comfort food elements is decidedly darker—and also maybe more realistic in Fukada’s The Real Thing, which released yesterday virtually and on VOD.

Initially, Tsuji Kazumichi is relatively comfortable with his salaryman job and his no-commitments relationship with co-worker Naoko Hosokawa. Then one night in a convenience store, he briefly encounters Ukiyo Hayama, whom chaos persistently follows. Shortly thereafter, he saves her life when her rental car stalls in a train crossing. Soon this becomes a pattern as he subsequently saves her from numerous crises, some minor others quite significant, often involving her constant lack of money.

Kazumichi insists his feelings towards Hayama are ambivalent, even when grilled by her leading creditor, Wakita the Yakuza. Of course, the increasingly concerned Hosokawa suspects otherwise. Meanwhile, Minako Fujitani, Kazumichi’s other occasional work-place hook-up is becoming delusional and possessive. It all represents a perfect storm brewing for the formerly cool and detached salaryman.

If four hours sounds too rushed for this tale of chance meetings and ambiguous relationships than maybe you should hold out for Fukada’s ten-episode Japanese TV series. Regardless, the four-hour theatrical feature edit certainly feels skillfully whittled down. In fact, the way third acts events parallel early incidents might have more ironic power here, because they will be fresher in the viewer’s memory.

At times,
The Real Thing also plays like a non-musical, less candy-colored version of Tetsuya Nakashima’s Memories of Matsuko, except it is more grounded in reality and yet also maybe more hopeful. We certainly come to share all kinds of sympathy for poor, wild Hayama. Kaho Tsuchimura’s performance is a slow build, but an effective one. For a while, her character seems rather inscrutable and exhausting, but she will have you eating your heart out.

Win Morisaki nicely conveys a sense of a Kazumichi’s inner conflicts, but he is not as engaging as some of female co-stars. That definitely includes Kei Ishibashi, who is a constant source of surprise as Hosokawa. Frankly, Hayama’s old school friend, a briefly seen but unforgettable supporting character, really puts Kazumichi to shame.

Even though
The Real Thing is a very realistic film, it still has a great deal of twists and turns, just like everyday life. Sure, it is long, but sometimes it is nice to really get know characters, especially if they really aren’t so different from us. (In the respect, Real Thing also directly compares with Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s Happy Hour.) Highly recommended for grown-ups, The Real Thing is now available virtually and on VOD.