Japanese writer-director Koji Fukada gained international recognition with his film “Harmonium” in 2017. Similarly, his latest feature, “Love Life,” explores the impact of an outsider’s arrival and a sudden tragedy on a family, albeit in a reverse order.
The protagonist, Taeko, played by Fumino Kimura, is a single mother raising her 6-year-old son, Keita (Tetta Shimada), who is a prodigy in the game of Othello, with her husband, Jiro (Kento Nagayama). However, Jiro’s original plan was to marry a colleague before he cheated on her with Taeko and ended up marrying her instead. Keita’s father had abandoned them, and now Jiro’s parents, particularly his father, disdain Taeko and Keita, not considering them as part of their family.
Around 20 minutes into the film, a tragic turn of events occurs, which requires a spoiler warning. Keita dies after sustaining a concussion in a bathtub accident during a party. Fukada, known for his serene and unobtrusive visual style, creates suspense through a deliberately slow zoom on the drowning scene, amplifying the cruelty of the moment.
Keita’s death brings back his absent father, Park (Atom Sunada), a South Korean man who is also deaf. He crashes the funeral and immediately hits Taeko before slapping himself. The ensuing blame and attempts to minimize it commence. Taeko wrestles with her inability to forgive Park for leaving them, yet she believes he needs her help. Jiro, on the other hand, harbors guilt for not feeling guiltier.
The dynamic among the characters becomes more of a grief triangle than a love triangle, with a late revelation altering the symmetry and erasing any hard-earned sympathy for one character. Fukada’s intention may be to avoid presenting a straightforward catharsis, understanding that it would be too simplistic. However, the film’s treatment of child endangerment as a plot device comes across as too facile.
In conclusion, “Love Life” explores the disruption caused by an outsider’s arrival and a sudden tragedy within a family. With its unique storytelling and complex characters, the film delves into themes of grief, guilt, and forgiveness. While it challenges traditional narratives, it also raises ethical questions about the use of child endangerment as a dramatic device. Overall, Fukada’s “Love Life” offers a thought-provoking and emotionally charged viewing experience.