“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.
Original trailer (English subtitles)