No, this isn’t the semiautobiographical set in the future film about a child of celebrity turned secret agent. That would be West, North West, which sadly will probably hold your attention longer than the Japanese flick we’re actually reviewing. But hey, this one’s got lesbians!
So what’s West North West about? It’s the story of three insecure young women whose insecurities are further elevated when they interact. Add feelings, jealousy, and cultural constraints to the mix and it’s all just a gong show.
Naima (Rosa Sahel) is an Iranian student studying Japanese art in, where else, Japan. When we first see her, she’s visibly distressed, seemingly on a call with someone from back home. She captures the attention of Kei (Hanae Kan), who plays knight in shining armor when an employee and patron of a café get on Naima’s case about how loud she’s being. The two strike up a friendship from there, but Naima’s unaware that Kei has a girlfriend–Ai (Yuka Yamauchi).
Ai is the jealous type. Like the kind who spazzes out on you after seeing another girl on your bike wearing her helmet. She’s also annoying and infantile, and the shortest professional model I’ve ever seen. Then again, America’s Next Top Model taught me that’s okay if she only does catalog, so all is well.
Whereas Ai is the crazy one, Naima is shy, and Kei simply seems disconnected. It’s as if she’s just floating through life. That’s certainly how she handles her relationship with Ai. She cares about her, for sure, but I think she’s always thought they have an expiry date. Ai’s issues aside, Kei isn’t even honest with herself. Or at least, she won’t allow herself to live honestly. Case in point? When Naima finds out about the relationship and asks if she’s a lesbian, Kei is quick to shut down that idea: “It’s just that I fall in love with women.” Right.
Well the more Kei and Naima hang out, the unhappier Ai becomes. To the point of getting appendicitis. Yeah. Then again, that could’ve been because of her special model diet. In any case, girlfriends in the hospital always make you think twice about breaking it off. Speaking of which, what a great time for your girlfriend’s super judgmental mom to learn of your lesbian relationship.
Ai’s insecurities most definitely have a lot to do with that woman. After all, this is the same individual that insists Ai should drop her modeling career because “good looks are something you’re born with.” Her other fine moment? Telling Kei they should just end things now because there’s no way they’re actually going to end up together.
And as previously mentioned, Kei seems to have always accepted this cultural norm to be her fate. That’s why it’s especially perplexing to see her struggle to comprehend Naima’s adherence to her own norms, such as her religious practices. For her part, though, Naima appears to be morally at odds with Kei’s sexuality. And, perhaps, her own.
Is Ai’s jealousy justified? Maybe. Do I like Kei better when she’s with Naima? I do. Who, if anyone, will she end up with? Watch and find out.
Overall, West North West is an interesting watch. It undeniably has some strong suits, such as the special attention it pays to visual aesthetics and the distinctive tone it manages to convey. It also has its fair share of sex scenes, which works as a “fuck you” of sorts against the recurring theme of conservatism. It would, however, greatly benefit from some tighter editing. At 125 minutes long and many points drawn out unnecessarily, the film will likely lose its audience at multiple stages. In truth, West North West is by no means an exciting movie, but it is ultimately a thinker.
West North West will be playing in Sydney, Australia on Feb. 24 as part of the Mardi Gras Film Festival.