Wotakoi: Love Is Hard for Otaku
t.l. Wotakoi – L’amore è difficile per gli otaku
ヲタクに恋は難しい (Wotaku ni Koi wa Muzukashii)
Japan, 2020, 114’, Japanese
Directed by: Fukuda Yuichi
Script: Fukuda Yuichi
Photography (color): Kudo Tetsuya, Suzuki Yasuyuki
Editing: Usui Eri
Art Direction: Kondo Yoshihito
Music: Sagisu Shiro, Segawa Eishi, Hyuga Moe, Sakai Mayuka
Producer: Wakamatsu Hiroki
Executive Producers: Ishihara Takashi, Nouchi Masahiro, Ichikawa Minami
Production Companies: Credeus, Toho Pictures
Cast: Takahata Mitsuki, Yamazaki Kento, Nanao, Saitoh Takumi
Date of First Release in Territory: February 7th, 2020
Premiere status: International Festival Premiere
The Japanese word otaku is a slippery one to define, but it is mostly used to define an obsessive fan of a pop culture phenomenon, such as anime or manga. In the wider culture, otaku long had a negative image as unkempt, anti-social and even sexually deviant. Say, a pudgy, wild-haired guy who rarely leaves his room except to buy sketchy anime, on which he is a leading expert.
But Wotakoi: Love Is Hard for Otaku, Fukuda Yuichi’s bubbly comic musical about two otaku who fall for each other, shows how that image has changed. Far from being grubby social outcasts, its central couple – a male gamer and a female fan of BL (“boys love” or gay romance) comics – work regular jobs and present as normal. That is, they indulge in their hobbies in their private time and try to hide their “otaku-ness” from their co-workers.
But when the fangirl, Momose Narumi (Takahata Mitsuki), lands a job at the company where the gamer, Nifuji Hirotaka (Yamazaki Kento), works, her mask immediately slips. Narumi and Hirotaka, we learn, were childhood pals and know about each other’s proclivities. But Narumi tells the handsome Hirotaka upfront that he’s not her type since she doesn’t date otaku. Looking as though he would be unimpressed by the apocalypse, Hirotaka coolly tells Narumi he can be her assistant at Comiket, Tokyo’s semi-annual market for self-published manga, where she sells her BL comics.
From here the film swings into a big song-and-dance number featuring the two principals with the lyrics “We don’t care if we’re not normal.” No, this is not your average otaku movie.
However, Wotakoi is very much a manga adaptation, its source material being a web comic by the single-named artist Fujita. As in other such adaptations by Fukuda (Gintama, Psychic Kusuo), the acting is manga-esque and the action is over-the-top. But the film is also firmly grounded in the otaku mindset, evidenced by the abundant use of insider references that are impenetrable to outsiders.
Fortunately, the gags are broad enough and the story straightforward enough that a deep acquaintance with otaku arcana is not needed to follow along. Also, it is obvious from their first encounter that Narumi and Hirotaka are a match made in heaven (or an AI-generated algorithm), but their path to happiness is strewn with obstacles, some self-made, others not. One of the latter is Koyanagi Hanako (Nanao), a co-worker who is everything cute, ditzy Narumi is not: tall, sophisticated and ready to bed Hirotaka after a chance encounter at a bar. Another is Kabakura Taro (Saitoh Takumi), the snarly, demanding and attractive leader of Narumi’s work team, who shows her a more human face when they’re alone.
The many musical numbers composed by veteran Sagisu Shiro are performed by the non-pop-star cast with surprisingly adequate skill. Think Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling in La La Land.
As Narumi and Hirotaka, Takahata and Yamazaki play their manga couple more with sharp characterizations than cartoonish mugging. And behind Narumi’s goofy anime imitations and Hirotaka’s affectless observations are human beings who want love – or an otaku’s best approximation of it.
Born in Oyama, Tochigi Prefecture in 1968, Fukuda Yuichi began writing comedy skits while still in elementary school, though in high school he became an enthusiastic golfer and dreamed of turning pro. In 1990 started his own theater troupe, Bravo Company. After joining a production company, he soon left to go freelance as a writer for TV. In 2007 he co-launched the U-1 Grand Prix theater company as a director and writer and in 2009 made his directorial debut with the comedy Chasing My Girl. After that he made a series of hit comedies, including two films based on the popular Gintama gag manga.
2009 – Chasing My Girl
2013 – HK: Hentai Kamen
2016 – Hentai Kamen: The Abnormal Crisis
2017 – Gintama Live Action the Movie
2017 – Psychic Kusuo
2017 – 50 First Kisses
2017 – Gintama: Shinsengumi hen
2020 – Wotakoi: Love Is Hard for Otaku