My Sweet Grappa Remedies
t.l. La mia dolce cura a base di grappa
甘いお酒でうがい (Amai Osake de Ugai)
Japan, 2020, 108’, Japanese
Directed by: Ohku Akiko
Music: Takano Masaki
Photography (color): Nakamura Natsuyo
Editing: Yoneda Hiroyuki
Cast: Matsuyuki Yasuko, Kuroki Haru, Shimizu Hiroya, Furutachi Kanji, Koiso Katsuya
Date of First Release in Territory: April 10th, 2020
Premiere status: Italian Premiere
Japanese films centering on single women in their forties working for ordinary companies and leading quiet lives are few, though their real-life counterparts are many. And Ohku Akiko’s charming new drama My Sweet Grappa Remedies probably wouldn’t have seen the light of day if it weren’t based on a novel by the single-named Jiro, a member of the popular comedy duo Sissonne.
Heroine Kawashima Yoshiko (Matsuyuki Yasuko) is a character Jiro has played for many years in comedy skits. (Why Japanese male comics love to dress in drag is the subject for another article). Childless and husbandless when we first meet her, Yoshiko is not the hoary stereotype of the middle-aged spinster: No cats for one thing; no desperation for another.
Instead she spends her free time writing a journal. Its entries, dramatized in the film and read by Matsuyuki in whispery narration, are packed with aperçus poetic, perceptive and witty to various degrees. She also drinks alone more than she should, with her tastes running to the title grappa, sake and red wine. (“Do you want some wine too?” she mentally asks a buzzing mosquito.) And she has a commuter bike that she affectionately pats on the seat when she parks, it as if were a beloved pet. When she returns to find it taken away to a lot for illegally parked bikes, which happens with puzzling frequency, she is downcast, though she soon retrieves it from a chatty lot attendant. Finally, though she has her disappointments, as when a New Year’s card to one of her few friends comes back with an “unable to deliver” stamp, she is quick to recover. (“I’ll write you next year,” she says, a bit wistfully.)
Beneath a shy, mousy exterior, we see, is a woman with endearing quirks and a youthful spirit, who may beaver away silently at the office, but skips down a night street like a girl, to the bemusement of passersby. All this, however, does not a movie make.
The plot wheels, such as they are, begin turning with the appearance of Wakabayashi (Kuroki Haru), a junior co-worker who is everything Yoshiko is not: Goofy, loud and openly affectionate, she is the extroverted Ying to Yoshiko’s introverted Yang. When Wakabayashi becomes comically enraged at Yoshiko’s failure to reveal her birthday until the big day has passed, Yoshiko tells her journal that “I’ve never been so happy to be scolded.” And we are just as happy to have Wakabayashi’s brash presence in a film that might have otherwise been several shades twee.
The story, however, truly gets into gear with the introduction of Okamoto (Shimizu Hiroya), a tall, young, handsome guy who went to college with Wakabayashi and is about two decades younger than Yoshiko. When all three arrange to have a meal together, Yoshiko is secretly thrilled. “I feel revitalized,” she writes, followed by “I fall in love too easily.”
From here the film becomes a kind sex-role-reversed Jules and Jim, with Yoshiko and Wakabayshi enjoying Okamoto’s company, while showing no outward signs of competitiveness or jealousy. Ultimately, we know, Okamoto must decide to pair off with one woman or the other, though his fate is not entirely in his own hands...
Ohku, who has specialized in films about the romantic travails of unconventional heroines since her 2017 breakout hit Tremble All You Want, has made My Sweet Grappa Remedies with gentle, pointed, humor and never a hint of condescension. Yoshiko may be a guy’s creation, but in Ohku’s hands she becomes a stand-in for many women in the audience, who age and appearances to the contrary, never want to give up on living, including the never-say-die search for Mr. Right.
Born in Yokohama in 1968, Ohku Akiko graduated with a degree in political science at Meiji University and after graduation worked as a secretary for a government-affiliated organization. She quit after only four months and entered School JCA, a school for aspiring comics. After that she worked as an actress and personality, appearing on TV variety programs. Her first film as a director is Igai to Shinanai (1999). Her films since have been woman-centered dramas, with her commercial and critical breakthrough being Tremble All You Want (2017). The release of My Sweet Grappa Remedies has been postponed due to the coronavirus crisis.
1999 – Igai to Shinanai
2007 – Tokyo Serendipity
2012 – Tokyo Mujirushi Joshi Monogatari
2013 – Monster
2013 – Tadaima, Jacqueline
2015 – Fantastic Girls
2017 – Tremble All You Want
2020 – My Sweet Grappa Remedies