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Love Life

Inspired by Akiko Yano’s 1991 ballad of the same name, writer/director Kōji Fukada’s gentle drama “Love Life” tackles those two very broad subjects (love & life) through the intimate introspection of characters caught up in a complex web of interconnected relationships. Fukada’s melodrama explores how these connections form and fracture—how they’re affected by grief and how distance (emotional & physical) can sometimes be necessary to understand them fully and ourselves.  

From an outsider’s perspective, it seems social workers and relative newlyweds Taeko (Fumino Kimura, a slow-burn heartbreaker) and Jirō (Kento Nagayama, devastatingly understated) live an idyllic life raising the precocious Keita (Tetsuta Shimada), her son from a previous marriage, in a modest, sun-filled apartment. Their congenial co-workers help them plan a surprise party for Jirō’s father, Makoto (Tomorô Taguchi). His parents live close enough to them that Taeko can wave from her balcony to her mother-in-law Myoe (Misuzu Kanno). Yet underneath the cheeriness of this sunny situation lurks deep-rooted familial tensions, unspoken secrets, growing jealousies, and an impending fissure in their young marriage.

Fukada masterfully teases out these tensions slowly. First, with glances, sometimes shared, sometimes just rendered. Then through casual dialogue laced with subtle, hurtful barbs. And finally, through grand gestures and monologues that reveal unexpressed feelings, misplaced loyalties, unmasked selfishness, and long overdue self-realizations. 

While all of this tension was brewing before the surprise party, which also serves as a celebration for the six-year-old Keita’s recent Othello championship, a mishap involving Jirō’s jilted ex Yamazaki (Hirona Yamazaki), an unkind implication that Takeo is “used goods” from Makoto, and, worst of all, a tragic accident involving Keita, brings everything swelling to the surface. The sudden reappearance of Taeko’s first husband, the half-Korean transient Park (Atom Sunada, wonderfully maddening), who abandoned them years earlier, makes matters even worse.

Deaf and houseless, with a stray cat in tow, Park roars back into Taeko’s life when she is most emotionally volatile. That the two never seemed to have had any real closure remains an open wound for Taeko (and, unbeknownst to her, Jirō’). It is now flayed and exposed for all to see. 

Park disrupts a wake held in a drab, colorless building, his ragged, mustard yellow t-shirt contrasting with everyone’s solemn black. He slaps Taeko in the face; violence erupts as he’s ushered out, and she crashes to the floor, sobbing. This burst of anger—and their shared, guttural wailing—comes as much of a shock as the accident that led to the wake. There is an intimacy the two share through their biological connection to Keita that draws them together and that Jirō cannot fully comprehend.

Acting as his translator, Taeko then begins helping Park receive social aid, at first reluctantly, then later at the encouragement of Jirō. As the two exes spend more time together, Jirō also finds himself drawn back to his ex, Yamazaki, who he similarly abandoned in an emotional limbo when he got with Taeko. All four seem stuck, frozen by their past actions and the people they used to be, unable to fully move on. 

In exploring the intricacies of these uneasy relationships, Fukada utilizes the melodramatic monologue in all its glory. While there can be an artificiality to monologues, the raw and complex contradictions each character contends with are rooted in emotions that never once ring false, and the actors bring an authenticity that transcends treacle. 

These intricacies are further aided by Fukada’s blocking and framing of bodies. At times, characters, filmed in zoomed-out full frames, are separated by the length of a table, a park bench, or a sea of office desks. Sometimes in these moments, a character shares the frame with another without even realizing it. A connection, even within distance. In other scenes on the apartment balcony, in a cramped car, or inside a tiny bathroom, they are acutely aware of each other, Fukada filming in tight medium close-ups and two-shots. The intimacy of the moments is undeniable.

While Taeko and Jirō do return to each other, they must first traverse a great distance emotionally and physically. In the film's final moments, an impressive, almost unbroken shot that follows Taeko and Jirō from their dining room out to the empty street below, Fukada uses both these framing styles to show the current status of the couple’s connection and how much distance between them remains. 

He leaves them and the audience on an uncertain note, contemplating what might come next, as Akiko Yano croons, “Whatever the distance between us, nothing can stop me loving you.”

Now playing in theaters. 

Marya E. Gates

Marya E. Gates is a freelance film and culture writer based in Los Angeles and Chicago. She studied Comparative Literature at U.C. Berkeley, and also has an overpriced and underused MFA in Film Production. Other bylines include Moviefone, The Playlist, Crooked Marquee, Nerdist, and Vulture. 

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Film Credits

Love Life movie poster

Love Life (2023)

Rated NR

123 minutes


Fumino Kimura as Taeko Osawa

Kento Nagayama as Jiro Osawa

Atom Sunada as Park

Hirona Yamazaki as Yamazaki

Misuzu Kanno as Akie Osawa

Tomorowo Taguchi as Makoto Osawa

Tetta Shimada as Keita






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