Film / Reviews

Family comedy 'Her Father, My Lover' is dark and absurd

by Mark Schilling

Special To The Japan Times

“Love is strange,” goes the song. But aren’t lovers stranger? Maybe not you, but what about your middle-aged pal, besotted with a girl young enough to be his daughter? What could he be thinking? And “strange” is no longer the descriptor many would use. How about the various synonyms for “disgusting”?

However, in “Her Father, My Lover” (“Tomodachi no Papa ga Suki”), veteran television commercial director Kenji Yamauchi’s ensemble drama, the shoe is on the other generational and gender foot. Its youthful heroine Maya (Wako Ando), with her round nerd glasses, earnestly informs her friend, Taeko (Yukino Kishii), that Taeko’s dad, Kyosuke (Mitsuru Fukikoshi), is her type. “You’re perverted,” says Taeko, one of the film’s saner characters. Maya smilingly insists that she is completely serious — and proceeds to aggressively seduce the baffled Kyosuke. What could go wrong?

Premiering in the Japanese Cinema Splash section of this year’s Tokyo International Film Festival, “Her Father, My Lover” promises to be a sex comedy of the role-reversal sort. Yamauchi, who also wrote the script, gives comic tweaks to his story of romantic cross-signals, but it is mostly as straightforward as its loopy heroine, while piling on the coincidences, crises and varieties of extreme behavior. The result is a hipster soap opera, with winking ironies and overwrought artificialities in equal measure.

Her Father, My Lover (Tomodachi no Papa ga Suki)
Run Time 105 mins
Language Japanese
Opens Dec. 19

Characters of both sexes behave badly, but the men are by far the worst, beginning with Kyosuke. This tired-looking, trench-coated salaryman not only has Maya making goo-goo eyes but is also consorting with Hazuki (Kami Hiraiwa), an age-appropriate lover who is pregnant and not sure what to do about it. Kyosuke’s fed-up wife, Midori (Kei Ishibashi), who has long known about this affair, finally asks him for a divorce.

Meanwhile, Maya, with Taeko’s help, publicly breaks up with her older lover and former teacher Tadokoro (Takenori Kaneko), who promptly falls to pathetic pieces. Then, on hearing about Midori’s impending divorce, her pudgy co-worker, Kawabata (Tomu Miyazaki), hits on her with an ungainly persistence — and she ends having revenge sex with him. Taeko has a hot-looking, puppy-doggish boyfriend (Mizuki Maehara), but compared to the shenanigans going around them, their relationship is boring and normal.

The film’s catalyst is Maya, played by newcomer Ando with a sparkling obliviousness to anything but her own desires. And yet it’s hard to hate her. “She has a strange kind of power,” Taeko astutely observes to her uncomprehending boyfriend. We get it: Maya is young and attractive (with or without the glasses) and goes for what she wants with a bulldozer directness that is perversely admirable. Already a serial cheater, Kyosuke falls easy, if not as hard as the groveling, sobbing Tadokoro, who can’t let go once he’s pushed aside.

This should be funny, but the pain of the film’s human collateral damage, beginning with Midori, feels too real, even when it’s framed as blackly absurd. Also, in its ambitions to be multilayered, the film scatters its energies and ends up with an empathy deficit. In trying hard to be clever it becomes simply incredible, with too many convenient coincidences and perfervid dramatics.

The casting of Ishibashi, 37, as Midori, the mother of 23-year-old Kishii, jars initially, though her obvious youth underlines Kyosuke’s preference for younger women. The standout performance, however, is that of Kami Hiraiwa as Kyosuke’s conflicted, if hardly submissive, lover. A versatile actress with a talent for comedy, Hiraiwa brings emotional weight to a film in love with its own facile conceits. In every look and gesture she shows, quietly and persuasively, why loving the wrong guy can be a lasting pain, not just a passing youthful whim. But who would see a film titled “Her Husband, My Lover”?