Emotional distance and the contradictions of the modern family conspire against a grief-stricken newlywed couple in Koji Fukada’s moving social drama inspired by the 1991 Akiko Yano hit, Love Life. Interrogating love in all its forms along with its limitations, Fukada seems to asks if love is ever enough to overcome a sense of loneliness or if the space between people can really be bridged by communication alone while the couple find themselves pulled back towards the unfulfilled potential of failed romance in contemplating the possibilities of different if not necessary better futures.
The fracture points in the recent marriage of Jiro (Kento Nagayama) and Taeko (Fumino Kimura) are thrown into relief during a double celebration as the couple host what is superficially a party for Taeko’s six-year-old son Keita (Tetsuta Shimada) winning an Othello competition but in reality a surprise do for father-in-law Makoto’s (Tomorowo Taguchi) 64th birthday. The elephant in the room is that Makoto does not approve of the marriage, making a rather unkind remark about second hand goods in irritation that his son has chosen to marry a woman who already had a son. Though Jiro’s mother Akie (Misuzu Kanno) is in general kind and keen to defend her new daughter-in-law even she tactlessly adds that she hopes the couple provide them with their “own” grandchild as soon as they can. The remark appears to cut to the quick of the already wounded Taeko, a look of dumbfounded confusion on her face in this sudden moment of accidental rejection.
During the party, Keita is killed in a tragic domestic accident of the kind for which no one is to blame and could easily strike any family. Police questioning further emphasises the couple’s disconnection as a policewoman probes why Jiro had not legally adopted Keita as his son when they married only to discover that he did not want to do so until he’d received his father’s permission to add him to their family register. Though only married for a little under a year, Jiro had felt himself to be Keita’s father and loved him as a son yet is awkward in his grief, wanting to cry alongside his wife but feeling as if he had no right to do so. The feeling is compounded when Keita’s estranged father, Park Shinji (Atom Sunada), suddenly arrives at the funeral, soaking wet and in inappropriate clothes, to first breakdown over the coffin and then roundly strike his former wife across the face before being escorted away by security.
In a mirrored scene, Taeko had asked her husband shortly before the party about another woman, Yamazaki (Hirona Yamazaki), sensing that there may have been something between them and feeling an anxiety in the precarity of their married life. Jiro is then left anxious by the resurfacing of Shinji yet trying to act against it, later advising Taeko that she should feel free to help him seeing as it seems he has fallen on hard times and has no one else to turn to as he is deaf and communicates in Korean sign language which few around him know. Taeko had previously used sign language to slip into a different world with her son when Jiro had asked why he never wants to play Othello with him only for Keita to reply in silence that it’s only because he’s not very good at it. There is a palpable pain on his face observing the closeness that exists between Taeko and Shinji as they communicate in a private language while, as Yamazaki later describes it, he is a man never quite able to look anyone in the eye.
While he is drawn back to his unfinished business with Yamazaki, Taeko finds herself filling the void in her life by trying to rescue Shinji. Treating him almost as a child, she comes to believe that he cannot survive without her yet later realises that the intimacy she felt between them was only an illusion, Shinji had never really been emotionally honest with her and there are in fact plenty of other people with whom he can communicate if only he chose to do so. Just as she had been isolated at the party, marooned in the kitchen on her own, she is abandoned once again yet perhaps coming to a final acceptance of her son’s death along with a clearer understanding of her love and life even if it all it means is walking in parallel with no clear direction. A melancholy mediation on grief, Love Life suggests you don’t so much move on from the past as take it with you even as the pair of conflicted lovers determine to look to the future rather than the past as a path to salvation.
Original trailer (Japan subtitles only)