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)

Ice Cream and the Sound of Raindrops (アイスと雨音, Daigo Matsui, 2017)

プリントThe youth movie has long held a special place in Japanese cinema but it would be fair to say that the fire has gone out of late, modern youth dramas are generally sad rather than angry. Daigo Matsui was in an enraged mood when he brought us Japanese Girls Never Die – a chronicle of female elision in an intensely misogynistic society. Now he brings his camera down a little to take a look at the incendiary play by boundary pushing British playwright Simon Stephens, Morning, through the eyes of real teenagers as their own hopes and dreams are suddenly pulled away from them by an act of “unfairness” which is perfectly typical of the treacherous adult world obsessed with rationality and not at all interested in their feelings.

Shot entirely in one take, Ice Cream and the Sound of Raindrops (アイスと雨音, Ice to Amaoto) masterfully condenses the one month rehearsal period of the play into a mere 70 minutes through dreamlike time segues, neatly swapping aspect ratios as the “play” takes over from “real life”. Stephens’ play, set at the end of summer – the same time as the play is being rehearsed and was scheduled to be performed, is a coming of age tale in which its small town heroine attempts to deal with the impending departure of her best friend for university by embracing the “freedoms” of youth only to discover that not all transgressions are cost free.

In a bid for “realism” the play’s director, played by Matsui himself, has cast real local teens by means of an open audition, but times are tough for the arts. With no “names” in the cast, ticket sales are slow. The producers have decided to pull the production and cut their losses ahead of time. The youngsters are obviously upset. This was, after all, their big chance and they’ve worked hard only to be told that all their efforts are worthless because they just don’t have “it”. No one cares about their feelings, no one cares about their wasted time, no one cares about them.

The actors and actresses play characters with their real names, slipping into and out of the theatrical world with little warning until the two begin to blend almost seamlessly and it becomes impossible to tell which level of theatricality best represents the teens’ inner lives. The “play” is also scored by a kind of Greek chorus in the form of a slightly older rapper/performance poet who offers a more direct commentary on the general feelings of hopelessness which have begun to plague the young cast who know they will be emerging into a world with few possibilities in which they will be expected to abandon their youthful dreams for an idea of conventional success which is destined to remain far out of their reach.

The cutesy title, Ice Cream and the Sound of Raindrops, hints at another kind of youth story – the melancholy journey into nostalgia as an older protagonist looks back on a beautiful summer many years ago spent with friends who perhaps are no longer around. Matsui’s film has some of that too, though his protagonists are younger. The teens almost eulogise themselves, telling their story as if it’s already over, walking like ghosts through halls of memory. They’re sad, but they’re angry too and they don’t understand why their platform has been so arbitrarily removed just as they were preparing their voices to be heard.

If youth wants the stage it will have to take it by force. Sick of being blamed, of being told that their failures are all lack of talent rather than luck, the kids make themselves heard even if they do so through a veil. Daigo Matsui gives them back their stage, enriching it with his own artifice in the thrillingly complex choreography of his oscillating one take conceit. Anchored by a standout performance from leading lady Kokoro Morita on whom many of the transitions depend, Ice Cream and the Sound of Raindrops returns the youth film to its previous intensity with a rebel yell from the disenfranchised next generation who once again find themselves at odds with the society their parents’ have created and see no place for themselves within it which accords with their own sense of personal integrity. 


Screened at Nippon Connection 2018.

Original trailer (no subtitles)