'My Man (Watashi no otoko)': Moscow/NYAFF Review

My Man Still - H 2014

My Man Still - H 2014

Nuanced performances from its 19-year-old star lifts the film out of its excessive representation of small-town (and then big-city) ennui.

'Thor' actor Tadanobu Asano and indie darling Fumi Nikaido feature in a story about an increasingly passionate and sexual relationship between a man and her adopted daughter.


Barely a year after unleashing a romantically and sexually frustrated middle-aged woman's story to the screen, Japanese helmer Kazuyoshi Kumakiri has swiftly returned with yet another frisson-heavy story about panged-up female sexual desire by training his eye on a young woman's deadly obsession with the man who took her in as an orphan.

Compared to last year's The End of SummerMy Man—which is also an adaptation of a novel, this time on the eponymous book by Kazuki Sakuraba—plays more on the atmosphere of its wintry settings in a small town in northern Japan rather than on overt drama. What's similar is how Kumakiri's latest effort also thrives on its young star, with Fumi Nikaido (Himizu, Au revoir l'ête) matching Summer's Hikari Mitsushima with a nuanced turn as the film's obsessive, near-psychotic protagonist.

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While it's hardly a surprise that My Man didn't set box offices alight when it opened in Japan on June 14, the film should find more love and interest on the festival circuit—its international premiere at the Moscow International Film Festival on June 21 would be followed by a July 9 show at the New York Asian Film Festival, and then autumn berths at San Sebastian and Busan.

With Nikaido's onscreen partner Tadanobu Asano now having made its leap from art-house icon to internationally known Asgardian after his appearances as Hogun in Thor, the film might even secure some minor interest in English-speaking markets belatedly getting to know one of the most idiosyncratic Japanese thesps of his generation.

But as the film's title suggests, the female lead character's perspective is central (and strongest) in My Man. Nikaido plays Hana, a teenager who lost his family after a catastrophic tsunami  left her home and hometown in ruins; the only "kin" she could lay her claim to is Jungo (Asano), a seafaring distant relative who adopted her when her saw her wandering around an emergency shelter the night of the catastrophe—a connection cemented as he promised "I'm all yours from now on."

It's a pledge Hana has certainly taken to extremes, as the teenager's bespectacled, nerdy veneer belies her possessiveness towards her foster father. She would challenge his bank clerk lover Komachi (Aoba Kawai) about her feelings towards him, one of many ominous moves which would eventually lead the older woman to up stakes and leave for Tokyo. While still acknowledging Jungo as "dad," her behavior would soon suggests she sees herself as the man's equal in age and status, and his spouse as much as his daughter.

This latter morph in character is manifested best as Hana converses with the town elder Oshio (Tatsuya Fuji) about her feelings of Jungo being always away at sea: she would say, as if suddenly consumed by a resigned-to-fate middle-aged homemaker, that she's fine with her loneliness as "that's how men are." This would prove to be Oshio's first of many deadly glimpses into Hana's real self; all-seeing sages never fare well when confessed to by malevolent spirits, and his sad demise is thus nearly confirmed later when the pair confront over Hana's quasi-incestuous consummation of love with Jungo.

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Throughout all this, Asano plays blank in nearly all the scenarios Jungo encounters—whether meting out parental love as in the guise of Hana's guardian, or fondling her as her lover. It's a demeanor which hardly changes as the story departs for its second chapter, as the pair moves to Tokyo to escape the past: as he rots away as a broke cabbie, Hana's grows beyond her confused teenage self, growing more independent by the day and detaching herself from Jungo physically and psychologically.

Filled with rubbish and emptied packs of 'Hope' cigarettes—yet another instance of the brand being used as a metaphor after Masaki Horiguchi's film Short  Hope—Jungo's half of the apartment is basically a dump; the perenially well-groomed and beautiful Hana's room is neat and well-adorned. Take this as a take on Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita or Andre Delvaux's The Man Who Had His Hair Cut Short -—the smitten man's life is shattered, while the girl conforms to the codes and rhythms of ordinary life. Or does she, as the film's ending suggests?

There's much that could be developed in this latter section—brought finally to a climax by a skirmish between Jungo and Hana's colleague-suitor (Kengo Kora)—but somehow Kumarkiri has opted to relegate this last third into secondary importance. As a result, the excessive ennui in windswept Hokkaido basically weighs down the whole premise, and handicapped the opportunity for a more thorough reflection of Hana's altering personality arc. Nikaido's performance, plus Ryuto Kondo's camerawork and Jim O'Rourke's score, are on hand to keep things interesting and moving.

Venue: Online screening (also Moscow International Film Festival, official competition)
Production companies: Kirishima 1945 in association with Bungeishunju in a "My Man" Film Partners presentation
Cast: Tadanobu Asano, Fumi Nikaido, Moro Morooka, Aoba Kawai, Kengo Kora, Tatsuya Fuji
Director: Kazuyoshi Kumakiri
Screenwriter: Takashi Ujita
Producers: Osamu Fujioka, Keizo Yuri, Shiro Wakebe. Ryosuke Kimura, Naoto Miyamoto
Executive producers: Osamu Fujioka, Keizo Yuri, Shiro Wakebe. Ryosuke Kimura, Naoto Miyamoto
Director of photography: Ryuto Kondo
Production designer: Norifumi Ataka
Editors: Zensuke Hori
Music: Jim O'Rourke
Sales: Nikkatsu Corporation
In Japanese
No rating; 129 minutes