A Beloved Wife
t.l. Una moglie adorata
喜劇 愛妻物語 (Kigeki Aisai Monogatari)
Japan, 2020, 118’, Japanese
Directed by: Adachi Shin
Script: Adachi Shin
Production Company: Bandai Namco Arts
Cast: Hamada Gaku, Mizukawa Asami, Niitsu Chise, Kaho, Fuse Eri
Date of First Release in Territory: September 11th, 2020
Premiere status: International Premiere
Verbal battles between the sexes are a standard feature of romcoms, usually as the start of a “fight until they fall in love” story arc. But quarrels between married couples in movies are often the prelude to a break-up, with Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story being a recent, widely praised example.
In Japan, the kakaadenka – the sharp-tongued wife who lords it over her forever cringing husband – has long been fodder for comedy, if not many feature-length films. So A Beloved Wife, Adachi Shin’s comedy based on his own 2016 semi-autobiographical novel, is something of an outlier.
Premiering in competition at last year’s Tokyo International Film Festival, this film about a struggling scriptwriter (Hamada Gaku) and his trigger-tempered kakaadenka spouse (Mizukawa Asami) gets laughs from the couple’s power gap, but it’s more than a gag-packed sitcom.
Adachi, who wrote the film’s script, also shows us why the wife, Chika, both married Gota and opted to stick with him, despite her frustration and anger at his loser ways. But when they have a towering quarrel reminiscent of the now-famous one between Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson in Marriage Story all bets on the survival of their marriage are suddenly off.
The film, however, begins as a mid-marriage sex comedy. In addition to his professional woes, Gota has long been exiled from the marital bed and is scheming to get back in. But Chika, as she confesses to a close friend (Kaho), hardly sees him as a man anymore. And yet as we see in flashbacks, she was Gota’s strong supporter when he was starting out, even buying and wearing a pair of “lucky” red undies, despite his mocking of what he called “superstition.”
The plot, however, turns less on Gota’s absurd quest for sexual relief, more on a “reporting trip” to Kagawa Prefecture on the island of Shikoku that he persuades a skeptical Chika to take. His object: A teenaged girl who reportedly makes udon noodles – a Kagawa specialty – at a blistering pace, which has given him an idea for a movie.
Forced to economize drastically as their household savings trend to zero, Gota, Chika and their young daughter nonetheless manage to arrive, tired and worn, at their destination, only to encounter disappointments and screw-ups, large and small, topped off by a quite funny accident that nearly kills Chika. Finally, she announces that she has had enough – and the aforementioned scrap begins.
Playing Chika, Mizukawa Asami lays on the scorn heavy and thick, but as we become better acquainted with Gota’s spineless personality and endless excuses, we begin to understand her frustrations, though her stubborn loyalty to a losing cause remains a puzzle almost to the end. Also, her explosions of rage, which delivered straight could have made her more of a bellowing shrew than a “beloved wife” are delivered with a undercurrent of humor, though at times she looks as though she might pop, like a balloon that has reached its limit.
As the wimpy, woebegone Gota, Hamada Gaku gets laughs while than a totally hopeless case. One reason: He communicates his love for both his work and his wife, even after enduring rejection after rejection and scolding after scolding. Is he a saint or a punching bag? Neither, but he’s also smarter than he looks.
Born in 1973 in Tottori Prefecture, Adachi Shin graduated from the Japan Academy of Moving Images, a film school founded in Yokohama in 1975 by director Imamura Shohei. Adachi served as an assistant director to Somai Shinji and started writing scripts. His first feature scriptwriting credit was for the 2004 pro wrestling comedy Mask de 41. His breakthrough was the script for the 2014 boxing drama 100 Yen Love, which won him a Japan Academy Award. In 2016 Adachi made his directorial debut with the semi-autobiographical teen comedy 14 That Night.
2016 – 14 That Night
2020 – A Beloved Wife