Review of “Love My Life”

Love My Life is a wonderfully offbeat and colorful independent feature from Japan.

Directed by Koji Kawano and starring Rei Yoshii and Asami Imajuku, the movie is a cute, indie-rock-infused coming-of-age tale about a university student and her first girlfriend. At once refreshingly honest and incredibly upbeat, it manages to avoid the pitfalls of most lesbian films and proves to be a successful adaptation of the manga on which it’s based.

The film opens on 20-somethings Eri (Imajuku) and Ichiko (Yoshii) in bed together, making out and discussing whether Ichiko should tell her father about their relationship. Fearful of his reaction but perpetually chipper, Ichiko goes ahead and introduces Eri to her free-spirited writer father.

While this would normally be the culmination of a film (or at least a major plot point), the scene is low-key and comfortable. Ichiko’s father accepts Eri right away, even joking that she reminds him of Ichiko’s late mother. It’s refreshing — especially considering the homophobic reaction our heroine (along with the audience) was expecting — and it sets the tone for the rest of the film.

Warning: Spoilers

For the better part of the movie, we follow Ichiko through her adventures in love and life: taking classes at the university, cavorting with Eri, and working at a trendy little record store. Scattered throughout the fun, chaotic meanderings of her life are serious conversations about what it means to be gay in modern Japan, from coming out to finding a place in the fabric of society.

Her father is a great source of these heart-to-hearts, as is her unhappy closeted best friend, Take. To cheer up Take, the doggedly optimistic Ichiko exclaims: "Look at Elton John. He came right out and got married!"

The film mainly focuses on the relationship between Eri and Ichiko, which is as sweet as it is predictable. In a clear case of opposites attracting, bubbly Ichiko is drawn to somber, sexy Eri, a super-serious pre-law student.

Eri’s work ethic, we later learn, stems from a desire to prove her worth to her cold, unloving lawyer father. This sets up the crucial dramatic tension: Can Eri loosen up and find her own voice instead of angrily vying for her father’s approval? Can Ichiko grow up and get serious about her own life?

More than just a few bumps on the road to domestic bliss, these issues put a severe damper on their relationship. Overall, it’s a reworking of the classic "girl meets girl, girl loses girl, girl gets girl back" paradigm. And though it isn’t very deep or original, it works well here.

The film’s second major focus is Ichiko’s family. After Dad meets Eri, Ichiko gets the shock of her life when her father exclaims: "You really are our daughter. I’m gay, and so was your mother." Ichiko’s discovery about her parents serves as the plot’s backbone and provides interesting commentary on the social status of LGBT people in Japan.

She meets her father’s lover and realizes how difficult it has been for him to live a double life throughout the years. In a particularly stark scene, they discuss the sacrifices her father had to make in order to save face for his daughter.

Later, she encounters her mother’s ex on the beach with her new partner. It’s made clear that her parents loved one another as a link to Ichiko, and that the situation provided a good environment for her. But living secret lives was clearly a tremendous burden for them both.

The gay characters in the film are forced to make an uncomfortable choice between their heterosexual, nuclear family and a love relationship with a same-sex partner. Ichiko’s parents tried to have both but still needed to keep up a charade, living closeted lives.

Take sums up the film’s position quite succinctly: "People like us haven’t made it into society yet. People put us down … but I guess all we can do is make the best of it."

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