Japan Cuts 2020 Review: Impending Doom Fuels IT FEELS SO GOOD
Emoto Tasuku and Takiuchi Kumi star in director Arai Haruhiko's romantic tale.
'What would you do in the face of impending doom?' is the question posed to Kenji (Emoto Tasuku, Your Bird Can Sing) and Naoko (Takiuchi Kumi, Greatful Dead) in It Feels So Good. Writer/director Arai Haruhiko's new film, based on a novel of the same name by two-time Naoki Literary Prize winning novelist Shiraishi Kazufumi, written right after the Fukushima nuclear meltdown, sees a couple on the precipice of another major natural disaster in Japan.
It starts out with Kenji, unemployed thirty-something divorcee seen on a riverbank, fishing half-heartedly, then getting a phone call from his unseen dad informing him that his cousin, Naoko, is getting married. Would he be able to come down from Tokyo and attend?
Naoko is getting married to an older career military man, who is in charge of disaster relief missions, in five days. He is involved in some National Security briefings right now. It turns out Kenji and Naoko share a past: they both were young and very much in love. Naoko even kept a graphic photo album, full of their sex acts, taken by themselves. They tried every position, and everywhere. They used to explore every inch of each other's body. The memories of their affair come flooding back and they can't keep their hands off each other. They will continue to have sex until the day Naoko's fiance returns.
Arai makes sure that we see Kenji and Naoko and them only. We are invited into the couple's intimate bubble. No one else is seen and only heard occasionally on the phone. They go out to restaurants and street festivals, but the camera is only concentrated on them. But mostly, we see them having sex in his old mother's house, her parents' house and her big empty new home, which she will move into with her husband after the wedding.
Emoto and Takiuchi give commited, brave performances as lovers against socital norms and impending natural disasters. They have great chemistry together.
It is slowly revealed why they are not together. Kenji got someone pregnant and had to marry. Naoko only wants to marry the military man because she wants to have a baby. Obviously, they have made some bad choices in their lives, they realize. Incest among cousins is looked down upon in Japanese society. But Japan is also one of a few countries which allow the first cousins to marry.
There is a talk of the inevitable eruption of Mt. Fuji, the sacred mountain of Japan. They reminisce about how they made love in front of the large picture of the caldera of Mt. Fuji, swearing their love into the volcano, as if sacrificing themselves to the mountain gods. They even took a picture to commemorate that night. Will they go their separate ways when Naoko's fiance returns?
It Feels So Good's theme is letting all your inhibitions go and living your life the way you want to, because it will all end anyway. Living in a country where natural disaster is way too common and people lead perpetually suspended in a temporary existence, Ken and Naoko realize, it's now or never.
They might come across as nihilistic from their point of view, but they are portrayed with much warmth and humanity by Emoto and Takiuchi. If we are to die tomorrow, who are we to judge how others lead their lives? Intimate, natural and helplessly romantic, It Feels So Good is one of the best contemporary Japanese films I've seen.
It Feels So Good, exclusively streams as part of Japan Cuts 2020, July 17 - July 30. Please visit Japan Society website for tickets.
Dustin Chang is a freelance writer. His musings and opinions on everything cinema and beyond can be found at www.dustinchang.com