Love never was and never will be logical. Your 20-year-old daughter rolls her eyes at May-December romances in the movies — until she gets engaged to a 50-year-old guy. And you will declaim loud and long against her choice, until you start dating a 20-year-old yourself. I am speaking in a general way, of course. I am certain that all of you reading this only fall in love with age-appropriate partners.
Still, certain pairings in films seem illogical and rub me the wrong way. One belongs to “Otoko no Issho (A Man’s Life),” the latest in director Ryuichi Hiroki’s long line of romantic dramas.
Based on Keiko Nishi’s popular comic of the same title, the film pairs 27-year-old Nana Eikura, playing a stressed-out career woman on an extended break following her beloved grandmother’s death, with 52-year-old Etsushi Toyokawa as the eccentric university professor the heroine ends up sharing grandma’s house with.
|Rating||out of 5|
|Run Time||119 minutes|
I couldn’t help being reminded of “My Fair Lady,” the 1964 film starring Rex Harrison as another cranky eternal bachelor in the professorial trade, who falls for his Cockney flower-girl-turned-student after treating her — even by the male-centric standards of Edwardian England — abominably.
But as much as I cheered the climactic reconciliation scene between Harrison’s Henry Higgins and Audrey Hepburn’s Eliza Doolittle, I fumed as Toyokawa’s professor Kaieda behaved as badly or worse toward Eikura’s Tsugumi. Double standard?
Here is the setup: On the mend after parting from her longtime boyfriend and leaving her job, Tsugumi takes up residence in her grandmother’s big, rambling house. Then she comes across Kaieda, who claims to be her grandmother’s former textile-dying student and was almost certainly her lover. (He is a trifle vague on that point.) Equipped with a key to the house, this long-legged, gray-haired, oddly self-possessed guy has ensconced himself in its annex and shows no inclination to leave.
Instead Kaieda treats Tsugumi as a sort of substitute wife/lover/maid, casually asking her to cook his meals, do his laundry and otherwise attend to his needs, including, in one memorable scene, telling her to remove his shoes in the genkan (entryway). Tsugumi frowns, pouts, objects, but does as she’s told. By this point, I’m guessing you feminists out there are starting to leak steam out of your ears. I certainly was.
But as the story progresses, we see that Kaieda is less an oblivious boor than a basically decent, if unconventional, guy who somehow knows from the start that he and Tsugumi are going to connect — and sees no point in wasting time with romantic preliminaries. And Tsugumi, for all her vows to put love on hold, somehow knows it, too. That is, this bright young woman who once seemed to have it all, fast-track career included, feels a sneaking urge to hook up with this domineering, unmarried guy who is old enough to be her father.
Hiroki, who previously worked with both of his stars — Eikura in “Yomei Ikkagetsu no Hanayome (April Bride)” from 2009 and “Daijobu 3-gumi (Nobody’s Perfect)” from 2013, and Toyokawa in “Yawarakai Seikatsu (It’s Only Talk)” from 2005 — is a past master at the art of steaming up the screen. The Internet is already abuzz about the scene, which is shown on the film’s poster, of Kaieda nibbling Tsugumi’s toes (a sort of thank you, if you will, for the aforementioned shoe removal).
At the same time, the principals in Hiroki’s romantic dramas usually turn out to be distinctively, fallibly, likably human, including the seemingly insufferable Kaieda. In his own quirky, old-school chauvinist way, he helps Tsugumi find her way out of her funk and, as corny as it sounds, brings her back to life.
And yet, it feels unfair to all the so -called beta males out there, including the pudgy aspiring politician (Tomoya Maeno) who pines for Tsugumi, and the pretty-boy former lover (Osamu Mukai) who is desperate to reclaim her. Their rival may pose as a socially awkward professor, but he is, in fact, the craggy featured, tousled-haired Toyokawa, who, in real-life may be as old as his character, but for years was widely considered one of the hottest guys on this archipelago, if not the planet.
If Hollywood ever remakes this film, Brad Pitt would be a natural choice for the Kaieda role. Despite his age, millions of women, even those under 30, would still gladly pull off his shoes, would they not?
And so I seethed. The lonely guy Higgins I could sympathize with, the certain-of-himself Kaieda, not so much. Love is a mystery — and life is not fair.
Fun fact: In Keiko Nishi’s “Otoko no Issho (A Man’s Life)” manga, which was serialized from 2008-10 in Gekkan Flowers magazine, Tsugumi is in her mid-30s and a manager on a nuclear power plant project when she ditches it all to live in the countryside. In the film, however, her former employer has been changed to a large electronics company.