Starring: Rei Yoshii Asami Imajuku Naomi Akimoto Miyoko Asada Ira Ishida
Running time: 96 min.
Reviewed by Eric Evans
Director Koji Kawano's 2006 manga adaptation "Love My Life" opens in a bedroom. Eri (Asami Imajuku), a young woman of about 22, sits up, rubs the sleep from her eyes, and reaches into a dish for a piece of hard candy. As she pops it in her mouth and rolls it around, the form next to her stirs. Up sits Ichiko (Rei Yoshii), another young woman of college age, who immediately asks Eri to share. The two kiss, swapping the red candy back and forth, and in so doing set the tone of the film. This will be something new: an open, unblinking look at love and romance between same-sex couples, but a playful one--a film without manufactured conflict or a sweeping moral ax to grind.
This opening scene also created some controversy in the gay blogging community, as some accused Kawano of exploitation. Does the scene constitute a straight man's fantasy of what they want lesbians to be--two attractive young women in a softcore embrace--or is it a frank, unblinking depiction of youthful passion? Kawano's background in Japan's notorious sex film industry didn't help matters, since those without an understanding of pinku eiga as a proving ground for young directors can get the wrong idea. Fortunately, the balance of the film works to dismiss any suspicion. None of the gay characters are relegated to the quirky best friend role. In fact, nearly every character in the film is gay, and none occupy the easy stereotypes of typical Hollywood fare.
The film tells the ups and downs of Ichiko's realization that she's gay, and of her subsequent relationship with Eri. Ichiko's experiences along the way--revelations about the nature of her parents marriage, discussions about the difficulties of coming out, realizing that she's attracted to women other than Eri--are told without melodrama or pretense. The gentle, meandering storytelling of the film is a fresh departure from most romances; there is no conflict for conflict's sake, no plot mechanics to create an artificial friction between characters. Young love is complicated enough, and the film depicts simply that: the insecurity of a person transitioning from college to professional life.
The cast is uniformly likable, playing characters who are all bright, sensitive, thoughtful and for the most part considerate of one another. These actors were no doubt chosen for their casual approachability: Yoshii and Imajuku both glow with the ardor of young love; Ira Ishida oozes paternal understanding as Ichiko's father; Chiharu Kawai makes the most of her cameo role as a mohawked woman of intrigue; and Hiroyuki Ikeuchi casually underplays what might have been an embarrassingly underwritten single scene into an ambiguous, quietly passive-aggressive encounter between two people tenuously linked by a third. Compared to the other manga adaptation about young lesbian lovers, Hiroshi Ando's 2001 "Blue", "Love My Life" is astonishingly commercial. Kawano's direction is straightforward and without pretense. Nothing auteurish here, just simple clean storytelling. "Blue" is atmospheric and lush with carefully composed shots and a cool, detached color palette, but it holds the viewer at a distance; "Love My Life" presents no such impediments between its story and the audience. It doesn't pander, but it doesn't challenge the audience to do anything other than open up for 96 minutes. Despite how that may read, it's a positive thing.
Ichiko's fears and wishes aren't in any way foreign to the viewer's. Is she with the right person? Is she important to her lover? Does she have a role to play in the world? The success of the film is in its appeal: that a movie about two young gay women can feel universal is a credit to all concerned. "Love My Life" is a thoroughly nice movie. For some that alone is reason enough not to see it, but as film romances go it's charming.