Just Only Love 愛がなんだ (2019) Dir: Rikiya Imaizumi

Just Only Love   

愛がなんだ Ai ga Nanda

Running Time: 123 mins.

Release Date: April 19th, 2019

Director: Rikiya Imaizumi

Writer: Rikiya Imaizumi, Kaori Sawai (Screenplay), Mitsuyo Kakuta (Original Novel)

Starring: Yukino Kishii, Ryo Narita, Mai Fukagawa, Ryuya Wakaba, Noriko Eguchi, Mariko Tsutsui, Ayumu Nakajima, Reiko Kataoka, Moeka Hoshi,

Website IMDB

Love makes people lose perspective. Take, for example, Teruko (Yukino Kishii), a 28-year-old office lady helplessly in love with magazine editor Mamoru (Ryo Narita). When we join her, she is in a downward spiral as she neglects her work and friends and chases after his affections. It’s a shame he takes her for granted as she obsesses over him. She has fallen into a one-sided love. Is she crazy to pursue it or just myopic? Viewing her from a neutral position, we want to shake her and say that all she is experiencing is just only love.

Adapted from a work by novelist/screenwriter Mitsuyo Kakuta (Rebirth, Paper Moon), the film shows how love makes fools of us all if we allow ourselves to become obsessed. The story stays with Teruko but gives us other examples of love, including photographer Nakahara (Ryuya Wakaba) the eternally-waiting wannabe beau of Teruko’s best friend Yoko (Mai Fukagawa), and eventually Mamoru who loses his own head over somebody else.

Exploring the dynamic of love in all its forms is typical Rikiya Imaizumi and he indulges in the topic with a typically young cast made up of talents, some from his previous film Our Blue Moments (2018) and others would later be bumped from supporting actors to leads in his future film Over the Town (2021).

The cast work with material that has been translated to the screen with a gentle tone and pacing (to the point of sleepy) as the characters drift from house to apartment, go from coffee shop to restaurant. Where they go is merely the venue for long conversations, shot in long takes, that always circle back to their need for acceptance, whatever form that may take.

The content is all about raking over their individual loves and either revealing loneliness or selfishness, with the occasional moments of awkward silence or angry rebuke as characters come to loggerheads over whether their love is valid or not. Backstories create interesting echoes as capricious Yoko’s mother (Mariko Tsutsui) is the sort of doormat lover that Teruko and Nakahara represent. Under it all is a sense of the need to belong to someone or somewhere and it is explored well enough here.

Just Only Love Film Image

Led by Yukino Kishii, playing an infectiously cute and worryingly stubborn lead character, the uniformly good cast all gel together to create alternating views of love – the selfless (to the point of being desperate) and selfish (to the point of being an asshole).

Probably, the most affecting scenes are the ones when a person’s love exposes them to rejection and also the alienation in a social gathering they feel they don’t fit into, the performers giving that soul-melting horror  of being in a party they don’t want to be in with their fake laughs and the way they cast their gaze at the object of their affection who isn’t even aware that they exist. Or maybe they are aware and are desperate to avoid an entanglement.

Little details catch our imagination – her infatuation begins with the observation that Mamoru has beautiful hands and their ages justify some of their desperation to get hitched. However, it will be up to viewers to decide whether there is any substance to all of this and whether characters are right or wrong.

It is extremely watchable with good framing that captures Tokyo night-life well – I never got off at Nakameguro where the cool kids hang out, either – although the detail that Mamoru’s magazine work earned him enough to live in the upscale district of Setagaya got me wondering. Maybe around the station? 

In any case, this is another Imaizumi film. Well shot, well acted and just only about love.

愛がなんだ 

2 thoughts on “Just Only Love 愛がなんだ (2019) Dir: Rikiya Imaizumi

  1. Agreed with your assessment! It was quite watchable and I thoroughly enjoyed the cinematography, as I often do with many Japanese SOL-esque movies. It was just missing something that would have made it more memorable. I can’t quite pin down what it is, but I do like unrequited love stories so it’s not the topic. I also found the main character frustrating vs Nakahara, who is in the same predicament but somehow earns my sympathy a bit more. Maybe he just knew when to give up!

    1. I also absolutely felt that frustration with Teruko. At least Nakahara showed growth and wasn’t a jerk to others when clinging onto love. Teruko was truly aggravating during the arguments outside the conbini and at Mai’s house.

      BTW, I watched CLAIRE’S KNEE last week and got major Au Revoir l’Ete vibes from it. The debt to Eric Rohmer really runs deep.

      Also, new Fukada at the Venice Film Festival with “Love Life.”

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