Love Nonetheless (愛なのに, Hideo Jojo, 2022)

“Don’t deny love!” the fantastically awkward yet empathetic hero of Hideo Jojo’s Love Nonetheless (愛なのに, Ai Nanoni) eventually exclaims when confronted by the parents of a high school girl whose crush on him he’d tried to diffuse sensitively while growing to appreciate her friendship. Scripted by the ever prolific Rikiya Imaizumi who has made something of a name for himself examining the complicated romantic lives of young people in the contemporary society, Jojo’s prickly dramedy like his other film this year To Be Killed by a High School Girl deals with some quite uncomfortable ideas but does so with as much sensitivity as it can muster. 

The lovelorn hero, Koji (Koji Seto), for example is always trying to rationalise the circumstances around him considering his own actions and their implications carefully. When he catches a high school girl, Misaki (Yuumi Kawai), stealing a book from the secondhand bookshop where he works he chases her but she, surprisingly, stops running when she notices him struggling and buys him a bottle of water from a vending machine before eventually confessing that she stole the book because she saw him reading it. Not only does she announce she’s in love with him, she immediately proposes marriage. 30-year-old Koji is shocked and alarmed. He tries to turn her down but she doesn’t listen, continuing to frequent the store bringing him letters reiterating her marriage proposal which he never answers. 

Meanwhile, he’s hung up on an unrequited crush, Ikka (Honami Sato), who he’s just learned is about to be married. Even he describes himself as a “creep” looking back over of a cringeworthy series of tweets he’d sent her which she never replied to, while she explains to her fiancé Ryosuke (Ayumu Nakajima) why she’s not planning on inviting him to the wedding despite inviting everyone else from her old part-time job. Unbeknownst to her, Ryosuke has secretly been carrying on with their wedding planner, Miki (Yuka Kouri), who is content with the no strings nature of their relationship and ironically hates the “bizarre ritual” she has been hired to organise having developed a rather cynical view of marriage due to the nature of her work. The couple seem to be in a fairly liminal state, their apartment still full of boxes while they bicker about the financial strain of a ceremony which as Miki points out is not even about them but solely for their families and any children they may later have. 

All these people supposedly love each other, so why is it all so difficult and destructive? Always introspective, Koji realises he may have alienated Ikka with his inappropriate behaviour and has reflected on his actions but the fact remains that most of the other men are not so emotionally aware. Misaki is also courted by an awkward classmate who greets her with roses but thrashes them to the ground in frustration when she turns him down and later physically attacks Koji even when he points out that hitting his love rival won’t change the fact that Misaki’s not interested in him. Ikka meanwhile is approached by a sleazy salaryman when drinking alone in an izakaya whose response when she tells him she’s married is “so what, I am too”. Ryosuke appears to be having an affair for no other reason than he could while simultaneously confused by Miki’s lack of emotional investment in their relationship only for her to patiently explain to him that his problem is he’s bad in bed something which a lover would be unable to tell him directly. Ikka begins to realise this for herself while turning to Koji to get back at Ryosuke on learning of the affair as if believing that a level playing field of emotional betrayal would somehow allow them to start their married life on an equal footing. 

The secondary question arises of how important sex is in a romantic partnership, Ikka wondering if Ryosuke really is just a bad lover or if their unsatisfying sex life is a sign that they are simply incompatible and should separate given that she finds much more fulfilment with Koji whom she chose because of her lack of romantic interest in him. Koji meanwhile, fully aware of the realities of the situation, points out that it’s unfair and irresponsible of Ikka to exploit his feelings for her while cautioning her that her behaviour is heading towards the self-destructive and that she should reconsider marrying Ryosuke not because he thinks she should date him but simply because this complicated situation is obviously unhealthy for everyone. You could of course say the same about his awkward, perhaps uncomfortable relationship with the teenage Misaki which might in a sense be romantic, both slightly inappropriate and essentially innocent even if his eventual concession that he might love her one day is a step too far in failing to fully diffuse her one-sided crush in part because he’s become dependent on the attention he receives from her in the letters he doesn’t answer. 

Then again, the most troubling aspect of Ryosuke’s affair is not the extra-marital sex but the manipulative lie he constructed to excuse it designed to arouse Ikka’s sympathy in tying it back to her awkward experience with one-sided workplace crushes. Aware of the affair but not the lie, the choice she thinks she’s making is if her relationship with Ryosuke is strong enough to accept sacrificing sexual fulfilment or if perhaps this is as good as it gets when it comes to marital compromise. Koji’s solution seems to be that you should let love rest where it lands, denying it is pointless even if not reciprocated while sensitivity with other people’s feelings is essential for a happy, healthy society. Warmhearted and empathetic in its forgiveness of its messy protagonists’ many flaws, Jojo’s steamy drama never pretends love is easy but suggests it comes in many forms and in the end maybe follow your heart is as good advice as you’re ever going to get.


Love Nonetheless screened as part of this year’s Udine Far East Film Festival.

Original trailer (English subtitles)

To Be Killed by a High School Girl (女子高生に殺されたい, Hideo Jojo, 2022)

Are there some desires so taboo that they can never be spoken of even if they cause no harm to others? Adapted from the manga by Usamaru Furuya, Hideo Jojo’s To Be Killed by a High School Girl (女子高生に殺されたい, Joshikosei ni Korosaretai) is indeed about a man fixated with the idea of being strangled by a teenage girl but one who also embodies the inspirational teacher stereotype planning to leave behind him a kind of manifesto instructing his pupils to live their lives to the full while remaining true to their authentic selves in the knowledge that their lives will be defined by the manner of their deaths. 

Subverting a trope from shojo manga, Higashiyama (Kei Tanaka) is the hot new teacher at school proving an instant hit with most of the girls in his class but he’s come with an ulterior motive in that his ultimate fetish is being murdered by a high school girl. Even so, he claims to feel no attraction to his teenage pupils and is sickened by teachers who abuse their position later revealing he orchestrated his predecessor’s downfall by accelerating a complaint that had already been registered against him for inappropriate contact with students. His fetish lies solely in being overpowered by someone he would ordinarily perceive as being weaker than himself after fighting for his life with all his strength. 

Then again, as Satsuki (Yuko Oshima), a councillor brought into the school following a traumatic incident who also happens to be Higashiyama’s uni ex, points out his techniques for manipulating the girls are little different than those of a predatory sex offender grooming their prey. He figures out their weaknesses and goes out of his way to make each of them feel special while simultaneously provoking a sense of jealousy so he can bend them to his will in enacting a plan that will eventually lead to his murder in the middle of the school cultural festival. On the other hand, he crafts his plan in such a way as to protect his killer, his fetish won’t be fulfilled unless it’s a perfect crime, and because of the nature of the girl he’s selected he’s confident she won’t even remember having killed him and therefore will remain largely unaffected. 

Higashiyama doesn’t give much an explanation for his fetish save an allusion to having been born with the cord around his neck, a sensation he claims to remember only later admitting that he “recovered” a memory of it after his mother described the event to him. He later says something similar to Satsuki after suffering with amnesia, claiming to remember how he ended up in the hospital but then confessing that Satsuki had explained it to him on a previous occasion. He claims that he’s not suicidal but continues to fixate on death as force which gives life meaning, paradoxically insisting on living with all his might while otherwise drawn towards mortal extremity and fearing a “bad” ending such as being pushed off a cliff or poisoned with carbon monoxide neither of which would satisfy his fetish in their distinct lack of romance.  

Even so as another pupil suggests is he just a regular “pervert” after all despite his rather high minded-view of his proclivities? Despite all his manipulations, the various girls which he targets all seem to begin making progress in their lives, an angry judo enthusiast kicking back against a boy who’d long been bullying her, a shy theatre kid turning popular girl, and a young woman beginning to overcome her trauma thanks to the power of unconditional friendship. His replacement, a middle-aged man with a bad wig, is completely ignored by his pupils hinting perhaps that Higashiyama’s teaching practice was effective no matter now uncomfortable if not quite inappropriate some of his conduct may have turned out to be. After all he argues, he’s not a “pervert” just someone who wanted to be murdered by a teenage girl insisting that his fetish is essentially harmless because he has no sexual interest in the girl herself yet as we later see it does indeed involve inflicting violence on her. 

Playing with a series of B-movie tropes aside from Higashiyama’s taboo fetish from multiple personality disorder to premonition, traumatic memory, and fatalistic obsession, Jojo’s approach is arch in the extreme fully embracing the outlandishness of the material while both lending the troubled Higashiyama a degree of sympathy and hinting at the buried darkness beneath his handsome facade even as that darkness is essentially directed within, his death dictated by the circumstances of his birth as he “remembers” them. Occasionally shifting into the realms of giallo with creepy spiders and ominous red lighting, To Be Killed by a High School Girl never takes itself too seriously but revels in the inherent absurdity of its premise while remaining strangely respectful not only of the hero’s unique dilemma but of the ordinary problems among the otherwise besotted teens. 


To Be Killed by a High School Girl screened as part of Osaka Asian Film Festival 2022

Original trailer (no subtitles)