'Three Stories of Love': Film Review

Courtesy of Tokyo International Film Festival
Sensitive filmmaking communicates the quiet desperation of real-life love.

Modern love trips over itself in Ryosuke Hashiguchi’s trio of interwoven love stories.

The quiet desperation and shattered illusions that often surround normal love affairs may be a less popular film subject than fiery dramatic flare-ups, but they are captured with such tactful sensitivity in Three Stories of Love (Koibito-tachi) that the two hour-plus running time flies by. There are no classic happy endings here, just the realistic consolation that people get over things and metabolize the slings and arrows of romantic fortune. The non-pro leads bring intensity and poignancy to their everyday roles, and the direction of award-winning Japanese auteur Ryosuke Hashiguchi is confident and mature. The film should find appreciative audiences on an art house path after its Vancouver and Tokyo bows.

It began as a workshop project in which Hashiguchi first held auditions to select his cast, then wrote the stories around their personalities.  Though it touches on the gay themes of his early successes (A Touch of Fever, Like Grains of Sand), the tone most closely resembles All Around Us, his exploration of an ordinary marriage that endures under pressure.

This theme returns in the marriage of desperately unglamorous housewife Toko (Toko Narushima), trapped in an exploitative relationship with an indifferent hubby and a high-handed mother-in-law. Her obsession with having seen Princess Masako (once, at a distance) and her secret creative outlet drawing comic books (for herself) aren’t enough to fill the enormous void in her life. An encounter with a nice guy (Ken Mitsuishi) who wants her to invest in a chicken farm has the sad realism of a sketch from a Fellini film.

Less involving is the unhappy tale of Shinomiya (Ryo Ikeda), a gay lawyer whose preening, self-congratulatory air gets him pushed downstairs by a colleague. While Ikeda constructs a highly recognizable character, one who can even be sympathized with, his miserable love stories don’t catch fire, perhaps because they lack the touch of pathos that make the others reverberate.

The most inspired of the three tales belongs to the gloomy, angst-ridden Atsushi (Atsushi Shinohara). His acute senses and intuition make him a talented young bridge inspector, but also torment him. Ever since his wife was randomly murdered on the street by a madman three years before, he has been overwhelmed by grief and obsessed with fantasies of revenge. Holed up in his ratty apartment, he seems impervious to comfort. Playing a working man with great feeling and insight, Shinohara is expressive even as he turns increasingly inward.

Supporting actors like Lily Franky (of All Around Us), who sensitively encourages Atsushi in the film’s most delicate and touching scene, and the wonderfully trashy Tamae Ando as a beauty products pusher, take the mood in unexpected directions.

 
Production companies: Shochiku Broadcasting, Arc Films

Cast: Atsushi Shinohara, Toko Narushima, Ryo Ikeda, Ken Mitsuishi, Tamae Ando, Lily Franky, Hana Kino, Daisuke Kuroda, So Yamanaka, Chika Uchida, Takashi Yamanaka

Director, screenwriter:Hashiguchi Ryosuke

Producers: Seigo Fukada, Hitoshi Ono, Yosuke Hirata, Satoshi Aikawa

Director of photography: Shogo Ueno

Production designer: Ataka Norifumi

Editors: Hashiguchi Ryosuke, Ono Hitoshi

Music: Akeboshi

World sales: Shochiku  

No rating, 140 minutes

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