ボクらのホームパーティー 「Bokura no Ho-mu Pa-ti-」
Release Date: 2022
Duration: 80 mins.
Director: Shuichi Kawanobe
Writer: Shuichi Kawanobe, Hiroaki Nosaka (Screenplay),
Starring: Takashi Hashizume, Keiichi Kageyama, Ryo Matsumoto, Hiroshi Yokoro, Keigo Unohara,
The desires for love and equal treatment felt by gay men are given voice by Shuichi Kawanobe in his indie ensemble drama Our House Party (2022). In the film, he channels his own experiences and research into the lives of a diverse group of gay acquaintances in Tokyo who are brought together at the titular house party. From there, he uses their airing of emotional troubles to examine the travails of living in a conservative society.
Our entry into this world is Tomoya (Takashi Hashizume), a naïve 21-year-old university student who has yet to come out but is on the cusp. Heading to Shinjuku’s gay-friendly 2-chome district, he has a chance encounter with Shoichi (Ryosuke Inoura), a bar owner whose gentle insistence on being genuine gives Tomoya the chance to begin articulating his homosexuality.
Audiences will see that Tomoya’s first experiences of trying to live openly prove to be rough as he accepts an invite to a house party hosted by two office workers, gentle Akito (Keiichi Kageyama) and his macho partner Yasushi (Ryo Matsumoto). Their relationship is riven with problems which are exacerbated by their guests, a sensitive and perpetually broken-hearted femme named Masashi (Keigo Unohara), the drunken antics of free-spirited Naoki (Sho Kubota), and Kenichi (Hiroshi Yokoro), a photographer who Yasushi is seeing on the side. As the alcohol loosens tongues and the close proximity of everyone raises temperatures, Tomoya learns of the many heartaches that affect these gay men and his idealistic view of living honestly is challenged.
Viewers will be primed for the emotional fireworks as Kawanobe astutely begins the film with concisely filmed episodes from various character’s lives to define the players and issues that lead to the conflicts that erupt in the party. We see that Tomoya and Akito occupy the more closeted end of the spectrum and have to hide their sexuality when in the public spaces of education and the office, while the more feminine Masashi is far more open through his makeup and personality and in his cruising of clubs. Each man, in his quest for love and loyalty, adds pieces to a central theme of the film which is how to achieve a sense of belonging as a lover, an individual within the gay community, and in society as a whole.
Once in the apartment, the emotional experience for the audience is full-on and absorbing with intense dialogue exchanges that contain a lot of flair as well as contextual information about their world. It is anarchic and fun and dramatic while sounding naturalistic as their words and expressiveness snakes around each distinctive personality. A lot of attention is paid to the placement of people and where they are looking while each man acts out their drama. With cinematography from Masami Inomoto (A Beloved Wife (2020), Obon Brothers (2015), and Osaka Hamlet, (2008), we never lose track of where everyone is and who they are interacting with. Indeed, we get swept up in events and there is a lot of tension in seeing how the characters will dodge difficult questions or come into conflict.
Pacing is fast as the film cuts between characters. Being restricted to an interior and getting intimate with the characters through numerous close-ups means the film builds a sense of claustrophobia and our attachment to what is going on is heightened. The dialogue and its delivery from the cast keeps up this sensation as each character reveals feelings long bottled up that explode out at the very end.
In dramatic terms, Kawanobe has created a well-structured script with a lot of interesting details and its flow feels similar to something John Cassavetes works. Any negative criticism of the film comes less from the limited setting and more from the fact that the film becomes a little didactic and with on-the-nose dialogue so that we cannot miss his themes but this is minor and it ultimately makes for a fitting ending. Aside from that, the film avoids being contrived and feels lifelike. It certainly benefits from how each character is a different type of gay archetype and how the drama comes organically from them mixing.
The cast are uniformly good at embodying their roles. Keiichi Kageyama and Keigo Unohara, who are at the centre of a lot of conflict, are very adroit at shifting gears emotionally as their characters deal with the betrayals and revelations experienced in the apartment, and every other member of cast meets them in dramatic stakes. The performances of the entire ensemble lift the characters up from being ciphers that are used to convey a message into human beings you care about, all without exaggeration.
In weaving together different perspectives, Kawanobe highlights how society’s othering of sexual minorities causes alienation in a dramatically sound and well-acted film. It feels like a realistic slice of gay life in Japan while still maintaining its theatricality so that the overall effect is that you will learn and care in some fashion.
You can read my interview with director Shuichi Kawanobe.
Our House Party can be seen at Rainbow Reel Tokyo on July 18th (Spiral Hall) and July 21st (Cinemart Shinsaibashi)