“Today is the best day of our lives” a couple exclaim seconds before taking their marital vows, but if you think about it, isn’t that just a way of saying that it’s all downhill from here? Even the determined wedding planner at the centre of Akiko Ohku’s ensemble comedy Wedding High (ウェディング・ハイ) admits that a good wedding day doesn’t amount to a good marriage and it’s certainly true that almost everyone in attendance has rather overhyped the occasion insisting that it’s a grand turning point in their lives even if they aren’t the ones swearing eternal devotion at the altar.
Groom Akihito (Tomoya Nakamura) didn’t even really want a wedding, they are after all expensive and time consuming, but is paranoid that not having one, or having one that’s not quite right, will eventually poison his relationship with his soon-to-be wife Haruka (Nagisa Sekimizu). For him the day has to go well, or at least Haruka has to feel as if she’s had the best day of her life, or their marriage will get off to a bad start. Meanwhile they’re under pressure from friends and family members trying to decide on a guest list especially considering that key guests are expected to handle entertainment with both sets of fathers and an eccentric uncle keen to get in on the action while it’s also customary to invite one’s boss to give a brief speech at the reception.
Akihito’s boss Zaitsu (Katsumi Takahashi) doesn’t exactly try to steal the day but does invest it with a surprising degree of personal significance, oddly touched that Akihito has asked him despite his having been disgraced at work because of a sleazy scandal in his personal life. Zaitsu sees the wedding speech as a chance for a comeback, obsessively studying standup comedy determined to deliver a genuinely funny routine that will make everyone laugh and perhaps conclude that he’s not such a bad guy after all. For Akihito’s schoolmate Shinji (Akiyoshi Nakao) the wedding becomes something similar, allowing him to regain his creative mojo after hating himself for being trapped in variety television having dreamed of becoming an arthouse movie director when Akihito tasks him with directing a wedding video to be shown at the reception. Even one of Haruka’s friends from high school dance club launches into a story about how this is their big chance to make up for their final performance being cancelled due to injury by performing it again at Haruka’s wedding.
A subplot sees Haruka’s uni ex (Takanori Iwata) decide this is his big day too, planning to storm the ceremony and win her back. He’s convinced himself they only broke up because he reacted in the wrong way when she mentioned her parents’ wanted to introduce her to a guy for an arranged marriage and thinks she’s sent him a coded message that she’s being pressured into an unwanted union and needs rescuing before it’s too late. Somehow Maho (Ryoko Shinohara) manages to keep everything running smoothly, springing into action when the couple’s big day gets derailed by competitive speech making and pretty much everyone else trying to have their moment, yet as her colleagues remind her it’s the next couple’s big day too and the last thing they want to do is spoil that by trying to save Akihito and Haruka’s wedding from falling into complete chaos.
Like most Japanese ensemble comedies, the resolution turns on the team pulling together to make everything work out. In this case, Maho’s speed wedding strategy leads to something genuinely beautiful and better than the original plan in allowing the couple’s friends and family who may not have known each other before to present a united front of support that neatly symbolises their union as a couple and makes their special day a little more special than it might have been if everything had gone smoothly. Almost everyone does indeed get something from the big day even if it wasn’t what they originally thought they wanted, seizing the chance for a new beginning or to put the past behind them. Asked to boil her speech down to the bare minimum a high school teacher (Hairi Katagiri) offers the simple advice “be happy” while Maho reflects on her role in the proceedings admitting that a good wedding day doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll have a good marriage but at least you’ll have a few good memories if it all goes wrong somewhere down the line.
Wedding High screens at Japan Society New York on Nov. 11 as part of The Female Gaze: Women Filmmakers from JAPAN CUTS and Beyond.
Original trailer (no subtitles)
Images: © 2022 Wedding High Film Partners