Part way through Rikiya Imaizumi’s Straying (猫は逃げた, Neko wa Nigeta), a tabloid reporter and the photographer with whom he’s been having an affair attend a screening of a pretentious film made by a hypocritical director exploring why a once loving relationship between husband and wife broke down. His reasoning may not be all that sound in the end, but does perhaps hint at something of the malaise which has invaded the relationship between Hiro (Katsuya Maiguma) and his wife of five years Ako (Nairu Yamamoto). Now on the brink of divorce, the couple have hit a stumbling block in the inability to agree who gets custody of their beloved cat, Kenta.
Kenta may not be all that happy about the separation either, peeing all over the divorce papers which only Ako has so far stamped. Hiro suggests that they’re going about it in the wrong order, that the papers should have been the final step once they’d sorted out dividing their property and finding alternative living spaces but he is perhaps a little reluctant as his determination to hang on to Kanta implies. A kitten they found together in the street in the midst of a pregnancy scare, Kanta is a symbol of their love and the hopes they had for it in the beginning. When he suddenly disappears, it sends each of the couple into a tailspin trying to find him which is also an attempt to recapture their lost love.
Yet we can see that the marriage has failed in part because of dissatisfaction in either on side. As he later admits, Hiro was always insecure in the relationship and had been planning to run out on Ako after hearing about the possible pregnancy while overcome with paternal anxiety. He once dreamed of being a novelist and hates himself for his morally dubious job as a tabloid journalist exposing the sordid secrets of the rich and famous, yet he does the job in part because he feels emasculated by Ako’s success as a manga artist and cannot bear the idea of being supported by his wife. For her part, Ako declares that she’s bored with eroticism while working on an erotic manga for a publishing company specialising in sexually explicit series aimed at a female audience. When she says she’s thinking of writing a cat manga, like the much loved Gugu the Cat, it suggests that what she wants is love rather than sex but she’s also begun a revenge affair with her besotted editor Matsuyama (Kai Inowaki) little realising that she’s toying with his feelings.
Like Matsuyama, Hiro’s girlfriend Mamiko (Miyuu Teshima) is more emotionally involved in the relationship than Hiro is though he sadly tells her he loves her and has superficially committed to leaving his wife. Mamiko also has a habit of eating Haribo at every opportunity which hints at her childish nature, though as is later revealed she’s surprisingly conservative for her age coldly telling Ako in a final confrontation that wives are responsible for their husband’s affairs while insisting Ako let Hiro go because she wants to become a traditional homemaker cooking and cleaning for him. She was also offended by the film because of its anti-marriage stance all which fuels her desire to unmask the “devoted familyman” director as just another industry sleazeball. Yet evidently the last thing Hiro wants is marriage because if that’s what he wanted he wouldn’t be getting a divorce. It’s no surprise that he put his foot down over getting Kanta neutered, insisting he be free to sow wild oats wherever he sees fit which is apparently with next-door’s cat Mimi who becomes an accidental victim of his sudden disappearance.
Yet sometimes straying only shows you the way home as the central couple awkwardly discover, brought closer together by the search for Kanta while forced to face the realities of their frustrated desires each emerging on a more authentic note and resolving to chase their individual dreams. The second film in the L/R15 project of contemporary sex comedies, Straying is scripted by Hideo Jojo who directed Imaizumi’s script for Love Nonetheless and in its ironic conclusion is perhaps less cynical than it might seem in hinting at new beginnings founded less on forgiveness than acceptance of life’s imperfections.
Straying screened as part of this year’s Camera Japan.
Original trailer (no subtitles)