Far East Film Festival 19

Udine Italy April 21st/ April 29th 2017
The Film Festival For Popular Asian Cinema
Teatro Nuovo Giovanni da Udine
Sunday, April 23, time 10.45 AM

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Close-Knit

Japan would seem to be a paradise for LGBT people. Transgender “talents” have been appearing regularly on Japanese TV for decades and LGBT folks can walk the streets here with little fear.
But dig below Japan’s surface tolerance for sexual minorities, as Ogigami Naoko does in her film Close-Knit, and the reality is not so rosy.
Known for films such as her break-out hit Kamome Diner (2006), about unconventional Japanese women looking for a fresh start, Ogigami has found her own career’s second act in Close-Knit. Scripted by Ogigami following her awakening to LGBT issues during a visit to the United States, this new film is more overtly serious than her previous, quirki­ly comic work. Though not a tear-jerker, Close-Knit flirts with the sort of ‘social problem film’ melodrama Ogigami once studiously avoided. And the story slices reality so thin that it borders on only-in-the-movies fantasy.
Nonetheless the film’s trans heroine, Rinko (Ikuta Toma), is a fully rounded character, not a flamboyant caricature of the sort found so often in Japan’s media. And her dream of becoming a wife and mother, over legal and social opposition, is presented minus feel-good false optimism. If Ogigami’s previous films were a form of relaxation therapy for her mostly female fans, her latest is closer to tough-love intervention for Japan’s still LGBT-unfriendly society.
As the story begins, 11-year-old Tomo (Kakihara) is living with her negligent mom (sin­gle-named Mimura), who feeds her on convenience-store rice balls and vanishes for days at a time. Finally reaching her limit, the plucky girl finds refuge with her uncle Makio (Kiritani Kenta), a nerdy, good-hearted guy who is her mom’s younger brother. But Makio now has a live-in girlfriend, Rinko, who Tomo immediately sizes up as different. And Rinko soon tells her why: “I was born a boy,” she says. “God made a mistake.”
As Tomo is processing this information, Rinko does all she can to make the girl feel at ease, such as preparing delicious bento (box lunches) and teaching her how to knit – Rinko’s preferred method of stress relief. And when the girl feels lonely, Rinko takes her in her arms – and begins to dream of becoming her new mom for real.
Meanwhile, Tomo’s classmate Kai, who is like a younger version of Rinko, presents her with a moral dilemma: He wants to be her friend, but she can’t be seen talking to him at school, where he is a pariah, or she will be tainted by association. But once she sees Rinko as a loving surrogate mother rather than a guy in a dress, she also starts to view Kai differently. Kai’s uptight mom, however, spies Rinko and Tomo together in a super­market and offers to ‘rescue’ Tomo from the ‘freak.’
The whole film rises or falls on Ikuta’s performance as Rinko – and he is superb. A versa­tile actor who appeared as a goofy undercover-cop-cum-gangster in Miike Takashi’s The Mole Song: Hong Kong Capriccio, Ikuta plays Rinko as a natural woman, if one whose gentle surface can be roiled by injuries and injustices, though she has long since learned to manage her anger. She is, in other words, as far from the stereotypical campy drag queen as can be imagined.
Does this make Rinko an unrealistic ideal, similar to the all-too-perfect black authority figures (cop, teacher, etc.) once played by Sidney Poitier?
Perhaps, but she is also one of the many Ogigami characters impossible to dislike. And even if you don’t buy the film’s version of LGBT life in today’s Japan, you will definitely want her to cook for you.
Prejudice, demolished one bento at a time.
Mark Schilling
Film director: 
Ogigami Naoko
Year: 
2017
Running time: 
127

Trailer

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LqsemzYocEI

Photogallery

  • Close-Knit 00
  • Close-Knit 01
  • Close-Knit 02
  • Close-Knit 03
  • Close-Knit 04