'The Real Thing' ('Honki no Shirushi'): Film Review | Tokyo 2020

'The Real Thing'
Mochiru Hoshisato, Shogakukan/NagoyaTV

'The Real Thing'

A pedigreed but less than compelling romance.

Award-winning Japanese director Koji Fukada brings a romantic TV drama to the screen in a four-hour cut.

A 30-year-old “salaryman” — the Japanese equivalent of an office employee — is getting bored with his two girlfriends at work when a dangerous, unpredictable femme fatale overturns his life. Originally produced by Japan’s Nagoya TV as a 10-part series, this comic book adaptation directed by acclaimed filmmaker Koji Fukada was edited down to a mere 233 minutes for its theatrical release in Japan in October.

Four hours is still an extraordinarily long running time for a romance that continually doubles back on itself as the hero Tsuji, played by Win Morisaki (Ready Player One), switches from one woman to another in a Mobius strip of unending relationships.

The film was a Cannes main selection this year; it is being screened at the Tokyo Film Festival as part of a career retrospective and salute to Fukada, who directed the 2010 hit Hospitalité and the 2016 Harmonium, which won the jury prize in Un Certain Regard in Cannes. So it arrives with credentials fully in order — as a compelling drama, less so.

The story is told in Fukada’s own ironic way, but the characters’ mutating relationships lack the realistic click one finds in a Kore-eda film or even a Naomi Kawase melodrama. Tsuji and his circle never let us forget their origins in comics and TV, always a bit on the side of stereotypes and stock characters, who are practically impossible to care about in any real sense.

With his lanky figure and a moppy haircut, Tsuji is an up-and-coming member of the Onda Toys and Fireworks workforce, maybe even executive material. Surprisingly, he has a long-standing arrangement with the severe Ms. Hosokawa (well portrayed by Kei Ishibashi) who spends secret evenings in his apartment; the infuriatingly childish Minako (Akari Fukunaga) has also bitten the apple with him a few times. Both have an eye on marriage, an idea that Tsuji just smiles at.

Enter Ukiyo (Kaho Tsuchimura), dramatically. Her car stalls in the middle of a railroad crossing and she goes into a panic with a train bearing down on her. Tsuji pushes the car to safety in the nick of time to save her life. When the cops appear, she tells them he was driving — and disappears. He’s smitten.

Many times in the story, Tsuji chases the fleet-footed temptress in her loose sleeveless dresses through the cold night rain. Every time he catches her, he has to lend her cab fare or bail her out from debt. An underworld boss demands $10,000 to release her from a future in prostitution (he pays). Later he discovers she has a wacky, violent and very possessive husband — and a child — who wants more money. The deeper she drags him into her messes, the more he’s hooked on her.

But there comes a last straw: the discovery that his trendy new employer Daisuke (Shugo Oshinari), the one who is supposed to change his life around, was involved with Ukiyo in a failed suicide pact and is still carrying the torch for her. This brings the romantic la ronde to a dead end, as Daisuke and Tsuji vie for her attention by each claiming to be the weaker man who needs her help.

If Win Morisaki seems like too much of a nice guy to be a ladies’ man, much less an offended lover, Kaho Tsuchimura slips perfectly into the role of the inept femme fatale who creates havoc in every life she touches. Her main line, repeated umpteen times and appropriate in every situation, is “I’m sorry.” She gets an unlikely makeover in the last half-hour. She may be the real thing for Tsuji, but it’s hard to imagine he is for her, or that she would ever become the one doing the chasing.

Venue: Tokyo International Film Festival
Production company: Nagoya TV
Cast:  Win Morisaki, Kaho Tsuchimura, Kei Ishibashi, Shugo Oshinari, Akari Fukunaga, Shohei Uno
Director, screenwriter: Koji Fukada
Producers: Takaya Kano, Shinsehi Tago, Tatsuya Matsuoka, Yu Katoh, Yoko Abe
Director of photography: Kosuke Haruki
Production designer: Yurika Jozuka
Costume designer: Hanaka Kikuchi
Editors: Zensuke Hori, Sari Hatsushika, Koji Fukada
Music: Yuki Hara, Sachiko Murata
World sales: Nagoya Broadcasting Network
233 minutes