Why does everyone always blame “the other woman” and not the cheating boyfriend? That’s a question earnest high schooler Yoko begins to ask herself in Sho Suzuki & Takashi Haga’s Me & My Brother’s Mistress (おろかもの, Orokamono) after spotting a suspicious text on her brother’s phone and then spying on him as he leaves a love hotel with another woman a month before his wedding. But what is it that she finds so troubling, realising her only remaining family member is a two-bit louse, or the fact he’s going to get married and it won’t be just the two of them anymore?

In the last year of high school, Yoko (Nanami Kasamatsu) is filled with anxiety about the future. In fact, she’s the only one who hasn’t returned her careers survey and it seems she also turned the previous one in blank. Her parents passed away nine years previously, and ever since then it’s just been her and her older brother Kenji (Satoshi Iwago), now a permanently exhausted salaryman engaged to the homely Kaho (Hachi Nekome). Yoko doesn’t get on with Kaho, for the bizarre reason that she’s just too nice, but when she figures out that Kenji is having a torrid affair mostly conducted in love hotels on Sunday afternoons, she is quite rightly outraged that her brother could be so duplicitous. Rather than confront him, she decides to have a word with the “mistress”, following her around all day but conflicted on spotting her doing such unexpectedly decent things as giving up her seat on the train for a middle-aged woman laden with shopping. Tracking her to a restaurant, she planned to give her a dressing down but Misa (Yui Murata), as she discovers her name to be, is perfectly reasonable if also unrepentant.

Misa asks a number pertinent questions including why it is Yoko thinks this is any of her business in the first place and why she’s decided to have it out with her and not Kenji all of which Yoko has to concede is fair. Unlikely as it sounds, the two women end up becoming friends of a sort, Yoko beginning to sympathise in realising this is all her brother’s fault but still not really feeling all that sorry for Kaho which is one reason why she suddenly suggests they try to stop Kenji’s wedding. 

Tellingly, she later asks Kaho if she’s not afraid that another woman will steal Kenji away, but it’s a question she should perhaps have asked herself. She is quite obviously at difficult time. Everything is about to change for her. She’ll soon be leaving school and evidently doesn’t really want to think about what happens next, while her home life is also about to change when Kaho moves in with them permanently meaning it’ll no longer be just her and Kenji. Perhaps that’s what’s really bothering her, that Kaho is displacing her in her own home and stealing her big brother away to start a new family that might not include her in quite the same way. 

Indeed, her main objection to Kaho is in her genial domesticity, the various ways she and Kenji already operate as a couple, the perfectly cooked meals she prepares and the maternal care with which she overseas the house. Kaho isn’t really worried about another woman because she knows what Kenji is looking for is exactly what she gives him – a settled home. Misa, meanwhile, laments her status as a perpetual mistress, never really valued by the usually already attached men she ends up dating who think of her as a casual fling, a short-lived distraction from their domestic responsibilities. Still too young to fully understand, Yoko feels offended on Misa’s behalf that her brother could treat her or any woman this way. Yet their plan to stop the wedding ends up proving counterproductive in that it forces her to sympathise with Kaho and perhaps realise that Kaho herself was never the problem while also regretting having encouraged Misa’s self destructive descent towards an inevitable conclusion that is only going to cause her more pain. 

Yoko’s only future goals were apparently to become a decent and honest person, an ideal she perhaps is not quite serving in her “evil” plot to ruin her brother’s wedding. Misa brands her a “boring teen” already obsessed with dull stability, while it’s perhaps Misa’s boldness and unconventionality which attracts the otherwise straight-laced young woman. In any case, Yoko begins to discover a new equilibrium or at least a new accommodation with adulthood that lends her a little of Misa’s defiance as she makes an unexpectedly bold decision of her own in figuring out what it is she really wants and walking confidently towards the future even if with no real clue as to what comes next.

Me & My Brother’s Mistress streamed as part of this year’s online Nippon Connection Film Festival.

Original trailer (English subtitles)

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