彼らが本気で編むときは、「Karera ga Honki de Amu toki wa」
Running Time: 127 mins.
Director: Naoko Ogigami
Writer: Naoko Ogigami (Screenplay),
Starring: Rinka Kakihara, Toma Ikuta, Kenta Kiritani, Mimura, Eiko Koike, Mugi Kadowaki, Lily, Kaito Komie, Shuji Kashiwabara, Misako Tanako,
Naoko Ogigami is one of Japan’s most commercially successful female directors. She has built up a large audience at home and abroad following her debut feature film Yoshino’s Barber Shop (2004) which was a winner at Berlin International Film Festival. She followed that up with Kamome Diner (2006), Glasses (2007), and Rent-a-Cat (2012). Her oeuvre could be described as quirky dramas about outsider characters in unusual circumstances but Close-Knit is a lot more serious as Ogigami looks at LGBTQ issues in Japan, a country that is still conservative in some ways, and she does so through the perspective of a child.
Said child is eleven-year-old Tomo (Rinka Kakihara). When we first meet her she is all alone in an apartment where unwashed dishes are piling up in the sink and onigiri wrappers and cup noodle containers are overflowing from the bin. Indeed, a meagre meal of store-bought onigiri is her only option on the menu as she dines solo. She has a mother named Hiromi (Mimura) but when Tomo does see her it is usually when she comes home late and drunk after a day at the office and, presumably, a night at an izakaya. Hiromi is a single-mother struggling to cope with the role but when she finds herself a man she quits her jobs and takes off for who knows how long and little Tomo is pretty much forgotten about.
At times like this, Tomo needs someone to take care of her and that is when she relies on her gentle bespectacled uncle Makio (Kenta Kiritani).
Makio is familiar with his older sister’s antics and has had to look after Tomo in the past. The two have something of a routine – Wii games and bachelor’s food. This time, things will be different. Makio has a girlfriend by the name of Rinko.
At their first meeting Tomo is astonished to discover that Rinko (Toma Ikuta) is a transsexual and Tomo is pretty wary about dealing with her, maybe out social stigma or maybe because she has developed a hard shell due to her upbringing but Rinko overcomes this by showing Tomo love and understanding.
Rinko lovingly prepare bentos and family meals like a mother would, she comforts her when she is sick or lonely and she takes the time to understand Tomo who is finally given the attention she needs. In return, Rinko gets closer to being what she thinks of as a real woman through acting as a mother.
Toma Ikuta, something of a matinee idol, proves that beauty comes from within because he captures what some believe to be the feminine ideal. He is gentle in both words and actions and moves like an idealised version of a woman would. You feel from his calmness and selflessness that his mind is beautiful and he has a pure heart but there is complexity beneath the surface as the story shows Rinko using knitting to control anger and sadness over prejudice she suffers, something she teaches to Tomo. The two knit together physically and emotionally as they talk to each other whilst creating various woollen things and these connections and actions makes Rinko’s character work as a surrogate mother.
We see Tomo grow and become happy as her home environment is finally stable and she (and the audience) get to know her new “parents” which is key to her overcoming her uncertainty about a transgender woman. Ogigami shows Tomo going from living in an apartment with a cold atmosphere of stillness and icy silence to the noisy and warm surroundings of Makio and Rinko’s home which is stuffed full of woollen objects. Tomo’s time is now spent with adults eating food and performing hanami in beautiful surroundings and looking happy rather than defensive. Ogigami also contrasts this with the prejudice others face as a subplot involving a classmate named Kai arises.
Kai has developed feelings for a fellow boy. Other students are somewhat aware of his nature and cruelly bully him. Tomo, previously desperate to avoid contact with this outcast lest she be the target of bullies because of her family situation, begins to see him as a younger Rinko and a genuine friendship builds outside of school. The film contrasts the love and support on offer from Tomo’s unconventional family and the cruelty and thoughtlessness of others including Kai’s mother, played by Eiko Koike who is given the one-note character of prejudiced woman.
There are no real “antagonists” in here, just people who need to be more empathetic. Upbringing and society colours their mindsets and so accepting transgender people is hard for some. Key to understanding this is Tomo’s encounter with Rinko’s mother Fumiko and hearing how she supported Rinko’s transition from male to female (something we see in flashback). This offers a positive view of mothering and family life as well as humanising Rinko for the audience. Rinko was showered with love and Rinko does the same for Tomo. Hiromi, we learn, suffered because Tomo’s grandmother likely took out her frustrations with her cheating husband and fears of life on Hiromi.
The film shows how desire shapes our actions. Rinko’s mother wants to protect her son and raise him to be happy and so that means embracing his true female nature. Tomo’s mother is uncomfortable being in that role and wants to escape but if she had to be support, maybe things would be better. The end shows that everyone has grown to accept the role they are in and there is potential for happiness but getting there required patience and understanding.
Ogigami addresses LGBTQ issues in such a natural way with a narrative that shows love is paramount in a relationship that it becomes a touching drama and not a lecture or political film. As Tomo’s journey shows, having a supportive family is the most important thing for happiness and sometimes family can come in different forms.