My Sorry Life (愛のくだらない, Kozue Nomoto, 2020)

A dejected, self-involved TV producer is forced into a moment of introspection when dealing with relationship breakdown and career setback in Kozue Nomoto’s ironic character study My Sorry Life (愛のくだらない, Ai no Kudaranai). Examining a number of social issues from women in the workplace to attitudes to LGBTQ+ people in contemporary Japan, Nomoto’s unflinching drama never lets its abrasive heroine off the hook even as she begins to realise that her own less than admirable behaviour has contributed to her present sense of despair and impossibility. 

Kei (Maki Fujiwara) has been in a relationship with former comedian Yoshi (Akiyoshi Okayasu) for the last five years, but it’s clear that she is beginning to tire of him. The couple are supposedly trying for a baby, but Kei has been taking contraceptive medicine behind Yoshi’s back while complaining that she doesn’t understand why he insists on getting pregnant before getting married when he hasn’t even met her parents. At work meanwhile she’s beginning to feel left behind, secretly jealous when a slightly younger female colleague reveals she’s been promoted to become the lead producer on a variety show and a little resentful when her idea for a programme focusing on the lives of ordinary people as opposed to celebrities is turned down by her bosses. The idea does however bring her to the attention of indie exec Kinjo (Takuma Nagao) who wants to bring her on board to produce a web series he’s about to launch along the same lines. And then, Yoshi drops the bombshell that he thinks he’s pregnant which is, to say the least, unexpected. 

Yoshi’s surprise announcement signals in a sense a reversal of traditional gender roles within their relationship with the man the nester and woman reluctant commitmentphobe. Kei is also the main financial provider, but on some level both resents and looks down on Yoshi for his lack of conventional masculinity having given up his comedy career to work part-time in a supermarket, obsessing over discount produce like the pettiest of housewives but often indulging in false economies such as reduced price yet still extravagant sake. Strangely, Kei goes along with Yoshi’s delusion taking him to a fertility clinic where she assumes they’ll set him straight but thereafter begins staying with a friend who ironically has an infant child and may be experiencing some difficulties in her marriage to which Kei remains entirely oblivious. 

Despite her journalistic desire to witness everyday stories, Kei is often blind to those around her never stopping to wonder if Yoshi is trying to tell her something through his bizarre pregnancy delusion or if her friend might need someone to talk to. She does something similar on spotting the office courier (Yukino Murakami) whom many of the ladies have a crush on using the ladies’ bathroom. Assuming the delivery guy is a lesbian she asks him about coming on the webshow, becoming even more excited when he explains that he’s a transman after inviting Kei to an LGBTQ+ friendly bar where he works part-time. Kei doesn’t realise that her throwaway comment that “that sort of thing is popular now” hurts Shiori’s feelings and leaves him feeling exploited as much as he would like to appear on the programme to raise awareness about LGBTQ+ issues. 

For her part, Kei is obviously not homophobic but does undoubtedly treat Shiori and his friends with a degree of exoticism, declaring that she’s never met anyone like them before while staring wide eyed in wonder as if these concepts are entirely new to her. Kinjo, the producer of the web series, is squeamish when Kei raises the idea, introducing her to a male scriptwriter who obviously already has his own concepts in mind, rudely ignoring Kei’s input while dismissively allowing his drink to drip on her proposal. The studio turn the idea down on the grounds that LGBTQ+ topics are “inappropriate” because there may be children watching and parents won’t want to explain words like “gay” or “lesbian” to their kids. Kei is rightly outraged, but she’s also a hypocrite because her intentions were essentially exploitative and self-interested. She wasn’t interested in furthering LGBTQ+ rights, she just wanted to chase ratings. 

Kinjo dresses up his personal distaste as a dictate from above but it’s clear that he doesn’t really value Kei’s input and continues to treat her poorly for the entirety of the project, blaming her for everything that goes wrong and expecting her to fix it on her own. There’s even an awful moment when Kei’s friend Tsubaki (Sayaka Hashimoto) shows up with her baby and one suspects they may be about to rope her in as a replacement guest, but the result is even worse as Kinjo stares into the pushchair and then throws the pair out while embarrassing Kei in the process. 

“Being busy’s no excuse for being unreliable” Tsubaki sympathetically tells her though it takes a few more setbacks before Kei begins to realise that she’s been unfair and to be honest generally unpleasant to those those around her. Feeling inferior, she makes a point of bumping into an elderly male janitor, treating him with contempt even when he stops to try and help her after she collapses in the office. Only through an ironic moment of emotional honesty which allows her to come to an understanding of her relationships does Kei begin to piece things together, reflect on her own mistakes and anxieties, and realise what it is she really wants. A contemplative reconsideration of accepted gender norms, Nomoto’s gently humorous drama never lets its heroine off the hook but does allow her to find new direction if only through confronting herself and the world in which she lives. 


My Sorry Life streams in the US until Sept. 2 as part of this year’s Japan Cuts.

Original trailer (English subtitles)

Mrs. Noisy (ミセス・ノイズィ, Chihiro Amano, 2019)

“Cases involving two parties must be viewed from differing angles” according to a lawyer trying to point out why a case that was cast iron days before is now a non-starter. Most of us know it’s a bad idea to judge people on appearances, but few of us have made the leap to acknowledging that it’s wrong to judge people at all, especially when you don’t and can’t know what’s happening in other people’s lives. Being self-involved is hardly a crime, but if it’s a bad quality in a human being it’s an unforgivable sin in a writer, which is why the heroine of Chihiro Amano’s Mrs. Noisy (ミセス・ノイズィ), apparently inspired by an early viral video phenomenon, is struggling to overcome a nasty case of writer’s block. 

Some years ago, under a pen name, novelist Maki (Yukiko Shinohara) made a name for herself with an award-winning book. After giving birth to her daughter, Nako (Chise Niitsu), she swore motherhood wouldn’t slow her down but six years later she’s published nothing of note. After moving to a new apartment with her freelance musician husband Yuichi (Takuma Nagao), Maki hopes to kick her writing career back into gear but an immediate spanner is thrown in the works by a strange noise early in the morning that turns out to be the old woman next-door furiously beating her futon. Maki asks her to stop, but her impatience only gets her neighbour’s back up and starts an ongoing conflict that only worsens after Nako, feeling neglected by her mother’s dedication to her work, wanders off and the neighbour, Miwako (Yoko Ootaka), accompanies her to the park. 

Later, we’re shown things from Miwako’s point of view and realise that when she said there were “reasons” she was out beating a futon at 6am she was telling the truth. Not only that, she tried to explain but was abruptly cut off by an impatient Maki who was not in the mood to listen. It doesn’t help that the Japanese word for “bugs” also means “ignore”, but many of the upcoming problems could have been resolved with a little more patience and politeness, which is something Maki decided she didn’t need to bother with in deciding not to go around introducing herself to her new neighbours as is the usual custom.  

Likewise, when Yuichi abruptly announces he can’t watch Nako the following day as planned, it’s easy enough to think he’s being unreasonable, letting his wife down and implying his career’s more important than hers, but that rather ignores the fact that his explanation is perfectly reasonable in that freelancers cannot (in contrary to popular opinion) dictate when and where they work, and that he offers to keep Nako occupied that evening instead so Maki can meet her deadline. As time wears on, we start to doubt Maki’s sense of subjectivity, realising that she’s begun to blame all of her problems on the old woman next door whom she doesn’t even really know. 

Of course, there are other conflicts, social and generational differences. To a woman of Miwako’s age, it seems “common sense” for an older woman to look after a little girl who seems lonely, in the same way it seems “common sense” that’s it’s wasteful to throw out perfectly good food just because it’s slightly misshapen, but then the world is not as accepting of “common sense” as it likes to think it is. To Maki, a younger woman not used to living in a tight knit community, it seems inappropriate to take someone else’s child to the park without checking with them first. Admittedly, Nako’s claim that Miwako’s husband (Taiichi Miyazaki) gave her a bath (not quite what happened) also sets alarm bells ringing, as perhaps it should, but again could have been settled with much less acrimony if it weren’t for an unfortunate personality clash between the two women in which Miwako offers some “common sense” advice that Maki herself is to blame for her daughter wandering off, touching a nerve in Maki’s conflicted sense of maternity that sees her cruelly firing back and drawing something of a battle line. 

Perhaps unpredictably, Yuichi sides with Miwako, pointing out that whatever Maki says, the fact remains that Nako wandered off because she felt neglected. Maki’s mother (Yuki Kazamatsuri) tells her that she needs to pay more attention to her husband and family, be more of a “wife” and make an effort with the housework, which sounds like old-fashioned sexism and perhaps it is but there’s also truth in it in that Maki really is only thinking about herself. Her editor too tries to guide her to a self-realisation that will reinvigorate her writing career, but she remains blinkered and obtuse. Maki decides Miwako is a batty old woman, and takes bad advice from her get rich quick cousin (Masanari Wada) to use her as a model for a story which becomes a big hit with a new, younger editor who selects it as a serialised column in a magazine for young people where its snarky mean-spiritedness finds a natural audience. Her cousin even uploads a video of the two women comically fighting on the balcony which goes viral and sends sales through the roof. But the meanness of the new, online world is something which cannot be controlled and can have terrible, unforeseen consequences when ordinary people become the focus of malicious rumour and painful ridicule. 

Even so, Maki takes a long time to see the light. She bristles when her editor tells her that her work is shallow, but fails to understand that the cause of its shallowness is her own unwillingness to engage with the world around her. “Following the surface of things is pointless” he tells her, only by taking the time to understand others can she write with true authenticity. Maki assumed Miwako was a horrible old woman after seeing her swipe offerings from a roadside shrine, only to later realise that she in fact replaces them every day (and perhaps it was her who put those cute little clothes on the statues to keep them warm). You can’t know what’s going on in other people’s lives, but if you don’t take an interest eventually people will stop taking an interest in you. 


Mrs. Noisy screens as the Opening Night movie of this year’s CinemAsia Film Festival on 4th March where the director Chihiro Amano will be in attendance to present the film.