My Father, The bride (2019) review [Japannual 2019]

 

Introduction

In 2016, Momoka Fukuda was given the chance to direct a short film under the NDJC (New Directions Japanese Cinema) Young Filmmakers Development project. The resulting short-film Dad’s wedding aimed to be a refreshing take on the family genre. Now, three years later, Momoka Fukada has reworked/rewritten her short-film into her second feature film: My Father, The Bride.

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Review

Toka Tomokawa (Honoka Matsumoto), who works in a department store in Ginza, has already been in a less than ideal marriage for a while. While she and her husband Tomokawa (-) still celebrate their marriage, the lack of communication between the couple is painfully apparent.

After leaving the restaurant, Toka informs her husband that she’s going to her hometown tomorrow in order to attend the service for the 2th anniversary of her mother’s passing. Upon arrival, she confronted with her father, Seiji (Itsuji Itao), wearing her mother’s clothes. Before she is able to express her disgust, her father tells her he is going to remarry and take Kazuo (Kenta Hamano), the local handyman, as his husband. Toka, who cannot accept this nonsense, runs off.

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It does not take long for the spectator to realize that My Father, The Bride concerns love in general and relational/marital happiness in particular. Taka Tomokawa’s problematic marriage, a marriage almost completely devoid of shared happiness, is subtly contrasted with the caring and supportive relationship of her brother Midori (Sho Kasamatsu) and his pregnant wife Samjhana (Ishani P.) and the relational happiness her father Seiji, who want to become the mother of a new family, has with Kazuo, his future husband.

The reason why Toka fails to perceive the happiness her father has found in this position of mother can be easily explained. As his choice goes radically against Japanese societal expectations, the sheer absurdity of her father’s choice blinds her. It is not difficult to link Toka’s failure to see her father’s subjective position to her failure to deal with the lack of happiness within her own marriage. While she may have fulfilled the societal expectations, the preferable image the Other conditions, she has failed to assemble her sexual relationship in a way that would enable her to find subjective happiness in it.

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It would be wrong for the spectator to equate Seiji’s choice to become mother with gayness. Note for instance that that there is no physicality between him and Kazuo. They have, in other words, just a platonic relationship. Nevertheless the narrative implies that Seiji aims, irrespective of any gender issues or gay-orientation, to become his wife in her role of providing food for her family as such. His cross-dressing is thus a way to honour his deceased wife, a way to feel close to the position, i.e. the role she played in the familial life, he misses so much. Instead of living without her, without her function, he becomes her , he becomes her by fulfilling her function.

Without spoiling too much about the narrative’s conclusion, it is still important to note that Toka will only be able to accept her father’s choice by being confronted with the struggle of Taki (Yugo Mikawa), his struggle of finding peace with his mode of subjective expression (Narra-note 2, Narra-note 3 (Spoiler)). Only a confrontation with the happiness a subject can find beyond following the societal expectations can enable Toka to accept her father’s transition and reassess her own position in her marriage (Narra-note 4).

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By way of Toka’s trajectory, My Father, The Bride is able to highlight the importance of realizing a subjective position – a mode of subjective expression – that enables one to find happiness in being oneself. The lighthearted nature of the narrative does not stop Fukada to turn his story into a powerful statement concerning the importance for every subject to find a mode of life that gives him access to happiness.

The reason why My Father, The Bride is so enjoyable needs to be situated in the pleasing and memorable scenes (e.g. the dog-barking scene, the scene where Seiji introduces his marriage, …etc.) that support the narrative’s unfolding. What makes these scenes so enjoyable is, first and foremost, Honoka Matsumoto’s performance as such. But it is not only these scenes that benefit from Matsumoto’s great performance. By striking a perfect balance between naturalness and comedic over-acting, Matsumoto turns the entire subjective trajectory of her character into a pleasing experience.

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The lighthearted tone of My Father, The Bride is immediately set by the quirky cinematographical composition by which the narrative opens (Music-note 1). Such kind of cinematographical quirkiness, which often boils down to playfully using jump-cuts and/or unconventional compositions, is (of course) also found at other moments in the narrative. One could even contend that Fudaka has rhythmically interspersed his cinematographical product with these quirky moments. But while such rhythm of quirkiness could easily have felt forced, Fukada’s thoughtful (contextual) application of such cinematographical lightness makes sure that these moments naturally fit within the cinematographic whole (Cine-note 1, Cine-note 2).

My Father, My Bride is a truly pleasant cinematographical narrative that succeeds, notwithstanding its lightheartedness, in formulating a truly relevant message. Fukada’s narrative beautifully evokes that one should not remain unhappy in a position that conforms of societal expectations, but realize, instead, irrespective of societal expectations, a position more expressive of one’s subjectivity. Given the continued emphasis on sameness/conformity in Japanese society, we can only hope that the Japanese spectators can go beyond the superficial lightheartedness and hear Fukada’s invitation to find one’s own mode of life in society, even if that mode goes against societal expectations.

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Notes

Narra-note 1: The fact that Toka Tomokawa marriage is less than ideal is subtly underlined by the different courses she and her husband choose – Toka chooses the red-course, her husband chooses the white-course. The difference in their choice translated the radical differences in their characters.

Narra-note 2: Taki’s struggle to express his subjective mode of expression makes him hide his love for make-up from his father. This struggle, this fear of not being accepted, also lead him to apologize for who he is to his father.

Comparing Seiji’s position and Taki’s position, we would be pushed to say that Taki is the only gay character in the narrative.   

Narra-note 3: The confrontation with her father and Taki finding their own happiness also enables Toka to decide whether or not to continue her unhappy marriage.

Narra-note 4: Toka is, at first, only busy with her own needs. As she perceives her father’s choice as going against her own needs, the fails to see the happiness her father finds in his transition.

Music-note 1: The lightheartedness of the Fukada’s narrative is also underlined by the funky and jazzy musical pieces.

In some cases, when the narrative asks for it, more emotional musical pieces are used as well.

Cine-note 1: The narrative is framed with a mix of fixed shots, spatial moving shot, as well as following shots.

Cine-note 2: Besides this cinematographical quirkiness, Fukada’s composition also boasts beautiful colour-schemes and impressive vistas of the island.

 

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