Wedding High (2022) [Female Gaze – Japan Society]

Introduction

Despite directing various movies before 2017, it was only when Akiko Ohku created Tremble All You Want that she attracted serious international attention. This interest, of course, meant that festivals were eager to invite her next films (Marriage Hunting Beauty (2019) and Hold Me Back (2020)). Two years later, the product of her collaboration with screenwriter Bakarhythm (Hell’s Garden (2021)) is ready to be experienced by audiences all over the world. Can their collaboration be fruitful and deliver us one hell of a comical experience?  

Review

Even though Akihito Ishikawa (Tomoya Nakamura) is not truly motivated to hold a wedding party, he agrees to hold one to please his wife-to-be Haruka Nitta (Nagisa Sekimizu). Not that much later, they decide on the venue and meet their wedding planner Maho Nakagoshi (Ryoko Shinohara). At long last, after many months of preparation and many decisions, their wedding day has arrived.

Yet, Trouble ensues when Nitta’s ex-boyfriend Yuya (Takanori Iwata), on a hot-spring trip with two of his friends, learns about her coming marriage and comes to realize that misunderstanding that led to their break-up – i.e. Nitta’s introduction of her parent’s idea to consider an arranged marriage – was merely a neurotic ploy to force him to act and proof to her that he desires, decides to steal the bride. 

Wedding High (2022) by Akiko Ohku

Wedding High offers a fun take on the tradition of the wedding party that will be quite recognizable for men and women who went through the process of organizing a wedding, but also give the foreign spectator a taste of how wedding ceremonies are organized within Japan. While the true inscription of the marital bond happens at the local city hall – a mere submission of the marital paper signed by those who marry and two witnesses, the wedding party functions both as a decorative re-affirmation of the marital bond by exchanging vows in front of the invited guests and as a ritual-like but deeply imaginary exhibition of the couple’s future prosperity – and, in particular, the male subject’s ability to provide (Narra-note 1). Some might argue otherwise, but the different dresses the bride wears during the wedding party are not only meant to make her shine bright on ‘her’ special day, but also to make her function as a shining decorative piece that echoes her husband’s desirability.

Beyond the many similarities between a western and a Japanese wedding – the Japanese ceremony feels, in a certain sense, as a fancy copy and paste of a western one, Wedding High also touches on the peculiarities of the Japanese wedding party, like the custom to give each guest a gift for coming, the tradition of  having an important senior at work – for Nitta section chief Inoue (Sarutoki Minagawa) and for Ishikawa director Zaitsu (Katsumi Takahashi)) to give a speech as guest of honour at the wedding, the inclusion of various celebrative moments of entertainment during the wedding party, and the highly timed nature of the event.

Wedding High (2022) by Akiko Ohku

Moreover, via the character of Akihito Ishikawa, the spectator is introduced to the contemporary dilemma within Japanese society of holding a wedding party or not. In truth, the externalization of his inner thoughts illustrate how many Japanese nowadays feel about such imaginary excessive event. As they have no interest in what this ‘wondrous’ event is meant to communicate to the other, the veil that softened the blow of the financial horror and the strenuous amount of planning has disappeared.

It is thus not surprising that Akihito’s motivation to have a wedding is not driven by a need to prove his phallic ability to the other, but merely by a wish to avoid his wife’s endless complaining about not having had such a dream-like event (Narra-note 2). He complies with his wife’s dream to have a wedding and pretends to be invested in its planning in an attempt to ensure the future marital peace. Or, in more crude terms, he hides his subjectivity to support the imaginary and deceptive feeling of marital harmony.    

This act of deception is, in the opening of the narrative, the motor of comedy and light-heartedness. Besides the contrast between Ishikawa’s inner speech and the speech he addresses to Haruka Nitta that will put a smile on the spectator’s face, it is also Nitta’s failure to hear the lack of interest that oozes from his signifiers as tries to cobble up responses to her inquiries (Narra-note 3).

Wedding High (2022) by Akiko Ohku

As the narrative unfolds, the source of the light-heartedness and comedy of course shifts. As the wedding day is vastly approaching, the ‘serious’ way various guest and staff approach their task (e.g. Souma pours everything in his video, the effort Zaitsu puts into crafting a speech, Yuya’s sudden desire to steal Haruka) become the main source of light-heartedness as well as the narrative blocks by which Ohku prepares the spectator for the quite hilarious unfolding of the wedding party. Ohku delivers a refined comical finale that, by testing the very limits of the scheduled nature of the marital event, reveals the essential imaginary nature of the event and the challenge, full of stumbles and little failures, that often ensues to safeguard the pleasure of the invited guests and the wishes of the paying couple. Furthermore, this finale proves to be a masterclass in playing with the spectator’s expectations.   

Oku richly employs fluid dynamism in her composition to give her narrative a good rhythm and be able to fluidly evoke the pressing need to follow the schedule. Her composition is, furthermore, full of light-hearted visual decorations (e.g. split-screens, unusual transitions, jump-cuts, the decorative and playful writing that introduces the name of characters or accompanies the staging of a character’s inner conflict, playful use of still-shots, jump cuts, fast forwards, … etc.). These decoration do not only enhance the visual flow of the narrative, but are also also utilized to fleetingly echo the feel and style of wedding videos as her narrative explores the background of various guests – invited as well as uninvited.    

Wedding High (2022) by Akiko Ohku

The compositional rhythm of the composition is, moreover, supported by the rich decorative use of musical accompaniment – a nice engaging blend of celebrative-flavoured, jazzy and more playful pieces. The light-hearted pieces, for that matter, succeed to musically prolong the comical effect of Ishikawa’s struggle to hide his subjective disinterest in planning of the wedding. The inclusion of decorative sounds adds an unexpected comical or light-hearted touch to many moments and supports the flow of the composition.

With Wedding High, Akiku Ohku might not only have delivered her best narrative yet, but one of the best comedy narratives of this year. With well-structured narrative – full of surprises, she introduce the spectator to the similarities of the Japanese wedding event to its western counter-part, while exploiting its differences for comical effect.      

Notes

Narra-note 1: As, in some cases, the families of the bride and the groom push the couple to have a wedding ceremony, one could also say that the wedding party is meant to show-off the financial prosperity of the families. The couple is, in a certain sense, utilized by their parents to impress others.

Narra-note 2: It is quite ironic that Ishikawa’s motivation to hold a wedding, an event that celebrates the groom’s phallic success – financially because he can pay for such a lavish event and romantically because he could ensnare such a beautiful and desirable wife, is not phallic at all.

This difference subtly echoes that blossoming divergence between contemporary societal discourses within Japan and the patriarchal values the ritual of the wedding party celebrates.

Narra-note 3: Nitta’s blindness is, of course, caused by her investment into making her fantasy of her wedding day, of that fleeing moment where she can be a decorative diamond that shines brightly, reality.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Johan says:

    Interesting review! Keep on doing what you do! Congratulations

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