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Gender-bending comedy certainly exists in Japanese films, though it may not be mainstream. In Yosuke Fujita’s “Fuku-chan of FukuFuku Flats” (“Fukufukuso no Fukuchan,” 2014), popular female TV comedian Miyuki Oshima starred as a male house painter who becomes allergic to the opposite sex after being jilted by the girl of his dreams. She played the hero, quite convincingly, as a shy, ordinary guy.

Based on a novel by Maiko Seo, Masahide Ichii’s “Our Meal for Tomorrow” is another offbeat romantic drama that also audaciously bends gender roles, but in the personalities of its two principals, not in its casting. (The English title that makes it sound like a foodie movie is a direct translation from the Japanese.)

This is more unusual in local romantic dramas than a woman in painter’s overalls or a guy in a dress. Typically the male object of the heroine’s affection ticks most or all of the boxes for stereotypical otokorashisa (manliness). Not so with Ryota Hayama (Yuto Nakajima), who may be a hot-looking high school student (Nakajima is a member of the popular boy band Hey! Say! Jump), but is a brooding, sensitive loner as the film begins. Then a girl in his class, Koharu Uemura (Yuko Araki), matter-of-factly asks him to partner with her in a girl-boy sack race for the upcoming sports day. He is the only guy left, it seems. Forced into comically close proximity by their race prep, Hayama and Uemura (who never call each other by their first names), become confidants and more.

Our Meal for Tomorrow (Bokura no Gohan wa Ashita de Matteru)
Rating
Run Time 109 mins
Language Japanese
Opens JAN. 7

Hayama may be a nerdy bookworm (Uemura chides him for only reading “books by dead people”) but he is not naturally gloomy. Instead, he is depressed by the recent death of his older brother. When he tells Uemura about his sadness at this loss she responds with a level gaze — and asks him to go out with her.

Working from his own script, Ichii does not direct this gender-role-reversed relationship — emotionally vulnerable guy and unsentimentally straightforward girl — primarily for laughs. Hayama is in real pain, while Uemura has a dark chapter in her own past that makes her long for a husband and three kids of her own (sexes and names of the latter already selected). Rather than recoil, adolescent-boy-like, from her dream, Hayama wants to share it.

Of course, when a romantic drama makes it blindingly obvious that its hero and heroine are meant for each other, various forces, from disapproving parents to idiotic misunderstandings, almost immediately try to tear them apart. So it is with Uemura and Hayama, whose on-screen lives unfold over seven years, through college and into adulthood.

The film does not, however, fill this time with the busy plotting found in so many domestic examples of the genre. Instead it rounds out our understanding of its central pair’s inner workings and personal quirks, from Hayama’s journey of self-discovery in Thailand (while Uemura, unbeknownst to him, flies to Australia at the same time for the same reason) to Uemura’s fondness for KFC chicken and her thorough knowledge of its white-bearded founder’s late-life success story. “It just goes to show that age doesn’t matter,” she tells Hayama with a straight face.

The story also features often-seen plot turns, both medical and romantic, though its treatment of them is more original than ordinary. And, yes, a make-or-break crisis arrives, right on schedule, but laughs are also on the program, just as they have been all along.

As Uemura, Araki is dry-eyed without being cold, direct without being brutal, while her smile flashes for Hayama (and the audience) like a bright unexpected gift.

So does the film as a whole, even though its “meal for tomorrow” is courtesy of Colonel Sanders. Finger lickin’ is optional.

In line with COVID-19 guidelines, the government is strongly requesting that residents and visitors exercise caution if they choose to visit bars, restaurants, music venues and other public spaces.

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