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‘Love Life’ review: The thin line between love and ache

By September 5, 2023No Comments3 min read
a photo still of two people sitting down leaning on each other in LOVE LIFE

This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the movie being covered here wouldn’t exist.

Directed and written by Kōji Fukada, Love Life is a beautiful, painful glimpse at finding love at the worst time imaginable.

Inspired by Akiko Yano’s 1991 ballad of the same name, writer/director Kōji Fukada’s Love Life explores love and grief and how these feelings can grow even more complex over time and distance. 

The film opens with Taeko (Fumino Kimura) playing a vigorous game of Othello against her son, Keita (Tetta Shimada), who just so happens to be the national champion of the game. In between moves, she is preparing the apartment for a party that doubles as a celebration of Keita’s victory and a birthday for her father-in-law. Her husband, Jirô (Kento Nagayama), is outside their apartment choreographing a surprise birthday greeting for his father with his co-workers. 

It’s painted as an idyllic slice-of-life story with a picturesque family until more background about Taeko unravels. Keita is Taeko’s son from a previous marriage, and Taeko herself was the “other woman” in Jiro’s life until they married. Jiro’s father is put off by Taeko’s situation and considers her a “cast-off.” At the same time, his mother keeps asking Taeko when she will give her a grandchild of her own.  

two characters at a funeral in LOVE LIFE

Poignant and nuanced performances.

But after a sudden tragedy, Taeko dives into grief, and the only person who seems to be able to connect with her is Keita’s deaf father, Park (Atom Sunada), who appears at a funeral dressed in yellow amongst a sea of black. His reappearance in Taeko’s life forces her to confront two different pains: the pain of unspeakable loss and the pain of seeing her past love come back into her life.

The ensemble’s poignant and nuanced performances are the foundation of the film. Through a single look or word, Fukada shows pain and jealousy bubbling at the brim. When Taeko is assigned to help Park get social benefits and a job, their communication in sign language is not subtitled, and the camera zooms in on Jiro, who is an outsider to their dynamic. This causes Jiro to retreat to his ex-girlfriend, Yamazaki (Hirona Yamazaki), who is little more than a sad woman who wants her boyfriend back. 

The strongest performances are from the in-laws, which makes it a shame when they move to the countryside halfway through. Their own reactions to the film’s early death are enraging at first, but as they take the time to explain themselves, you start to see their responses as tragically human. 

a photo still of a birthday party in LOVE LIFE

A filmmaker who understands the human experience.

Sadly, the one character who felt underdeveloped was Park. Taeko sees him as someone who needs constant protection and tries to fit him in a void he can never fill, but beyond being deaf and homeless, there’s surprisingly little to his character. His reason for abandoning Taeko and Keita is “difficult to explain,” and any tidbits about their family life are practically nonexistent. This shallow depth makes it hard for any chemistry to develop between Taeko and Park because it’s just unclear why these people would get together in the first place. 

Looking at Fukada’s filmography, it’s clear that he understands the human experience and the multitude of emotions people go through when faced with tragedy. Thanks to its ensemble and stunning use of camerawork and blocking, Love Life is another excellent addition to a filmography of longing.

Love Life is now playing in select theaters. Watch the trailer here.

Images courtesy of Oscilloscope Laboratories. Read more articles by Yasmin Kleinbart here.

  • LOVE LIFE - 8/10
Yasmin Kleinbart

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