An average guy, I once read, could have a reasonably happy married life with any one of the thousands of single women out there on the streets of Tokyo. This, of course, is the opposite of the Platonic ideal embraced by Carrie, the heroine of the American series “Sex and the City,” who, through dozens of dates and boyfriends, is relentless in her pursuit of The One.
The befuddled hero of Yuki Iwata’s quirky romantic comedy “Yubiwa wo Hametai (Looking For a True Fiancee)” shares Carrie’s quest, but discovers, to his horror, that three women, all seeming strangers, are vying for the honor of being his bride.
Based on an Akutagawa Prize-winning novel by Takami Ito, the film begins as a dryly funny flight of fancy but takes a dreamily serious, poignant turn as the hero gains in knowledge, but can’t give up his ideal of the perfect woman he thinks — or imagines? — he once knew.
He is Teruhiko Katayama (Takayuki Yamada), a 29-year-old salesman of drugs for the medicine boxes Japanese traditionally keep in their homes and businesses — a job that, in an era of big-box drugstores, has become comically quaint.
One day, Teruhiko falls and hits his head on the ice of a skating rink he services. Waking up in a clinic, he claims to remember everything — save the intended recipient of a diamond ring he was carrying in his bag.
Frantic, he goes in search of his one and only, aided by the tart counsel of Emi (Fumi Nikaido), a teen skater at the rink. In the course of his quest he meets Chie (Manami Konishi), a gorgeous but intimidatingly icy company senpai (senior); Megumi (Yoko Maki), a breezily friendly sex worker; and Wakako (Chizuru Ikewaki), a gently solicitous, if ditzy, street puppeteer.
When he realizes that they are all making goo-goo eyes at him, for reasons he can’t recall, he decides to date them to figure out which was the one he’d actually proposed to.
An illustrator-turned-director who made her feature debut with 2007’s teen drama “Remon no Koro (The Graduates),” Iwata evidences a surreal visual flair in the early scenes especially, as in the dreamy shot of revolving shadows resolving into spinning ice skaters to injured Teruhiko’s woozy eyes.
She also has fun with the oddball characters and their absurd situations without turning them into total jokes. Instead she regards them with a certain tenderness.
Even Teruhiko, whose treatment of his three flames can be piggish, is sympathetically viewed as a hapless romantic who, like the director hero in Federico Fellini’s “8½,” can’t find all he wants in a woman from a single person, but can’t help searching.
The film’s middle section slows as complications proliferate, including revelations about the hero’s pretrauma love life; but as the fog clears, the film takes on the haunting, wistful atmosphere of a dream that ends with fugitive longing and regrets.
Yamada, who has played everything from the date-o-phobic nerd in 2005’s “Densha Otoko (Train Man)” to the degenerate gambler in 2010’s “Shisaido Moteru (The Seaside Motel),” mixes his trademark look of pop-eyed desperation and surprise with quieter, more reflective notes, as the hero clues in to his own cluelessness.
The women in this poor mope’s life, we see, are all winners in their own sweetly flawed ways. But which is The One? How to decide?
Somehow Teruhiko has to, or decisions will be made for him, won’t they? Romance is like that, whether you remember it or not.