The trials and tribulations of a law firm run by an openly gay couple in Japan tugs at the heartstrings and leaves one with irrefutable hope for the future.
Of Love and Law opens not with a shot of our protagonists, but at a park in Osaka, where an LGBTQ event is taking place. The camera is placed at a low angle, and we see attendees with their heads cut from the frame, declining interview requests as they fear being outed or explicitly associated with queer media. Such is the Japan that we are introduced to in Hikaru Toda’s documentary, one that sets the scene for the myriad of subjects we will meet over the course of the film, each one bogged down and repressed by the strict rules and conservative society they live in.
The first of our subjects we are introduced to of course, are Fumi and Kazu, an openly gay couple who are partners in both love and law, operating their own law firm in Osaka. Fumi and Kazu are perhaps two of the most winsome protagonists we’ve seen onscreen in a long time, with their relationship immediately established as an incredibly stable one, as they step onstage during the queer event, parading awkwardly before stepping down and complaining about the amount of money they spent on their costumes. That they are a gay couple is never a problem, with the film normalising their status despite their positions as non-conforming members of society, and much of the footage captured focuses instead on their own individual struggles, and how their relationship has been the rock that tides them over each and every storm.
It helps, of course, that they are surrounded by an equally supportive group of people, such as Kazu’s initially dismissive mother, now working for the firm as a secretary and shedding genuine tears as Kazu recalls a student who committed suicide he once advised, hammering home the impact such repression and rejection has on individuals. As Kazu’s mother says “it is far easier to accept than to reject”, and it is with this attitude that she continues to support the couple. Meanwhile, the couple also provide foster care for the orphan Kazuma, an unusual but welcome addition to the family, who accepts their status and home with open arms. It’s no wonder that when Kazu, doubling as an aspiring singer-songwriter, films a cute but emotional music video for a song he wrote for Fumi, there’s an immeasurable sense of joy that surges from the couple onscreen, and undeniably, leaves us rooting for this extraordinary couple’s endeavours every step of the way.
But that’s not to say they aren’t just as capable at law as they are in love, with the remainder of the film dedicated to documenting a series of unusual cases the firm has attracted due to their boldness and openness about their sexuality. From a teacher who is dismissed when she refuses to stand during the National Anthem, to artist Rokudenashiko charged for distribution and display of obscene materials (she creates quirky, cute art based on models of her own vagina), there seems no end to the number of people who have been convicted of the controversial living in modern day Japan. Perhaps the way Rokudenashiko puts it is best, where midway through her segment, she introduces the concept of how unlike most Japanese, she could never ‘read the air’, flouting societal conventions without a care, having never seen what she’s doing as wrong.
Most poignant of all perhaps, is the case that introduces anonymous subjects as children born out of traditional family structures in Japan. Bereft of an identity and recognition from the state, simple things like applying for a driver’s license or even education itself becomes next to impossible for them. Campaigning for the recognition of these individuals becomes imperative as we hear their stories, resulting in a strong emotional arc when one case eventually proves successful, revealing her identity and imbuing in her new hope to finally be given the legal jurisdiction to pursue her dreams and be recognised as a person at last, echoing the overarching theme of the film where the non-normal are chastised and trashed, a continued urging for acceptance and open-mindedness when considering those who do not conform to society’s standards.
Having spent three years filming and collecting footage, Hikaru Toda’s cinematography is what can only be described as exquisite, capturing the quietest of moments shared between Fumi and Kazu in the back of cars as the camera pans to the windscreen, seeing blurred halos of light in the night, or the strange aloofness of Osaka, in a wide shot that sees office workers rushing across a crowded zebra crossing, while an ambulance coming through has to make an audible announcement to make way. The Osaka in Of Love and Law aches for compassion in every fibre of its being, and while it does not always deliver, one can take hope in the fact that everyday heroes like Fumi and Kazu exist to change hearts, and right as much of the wrongs they possibly can.
Expertly balancing keen emotion and the occasional light-hearted banter, Of Love and Law is a capsule of the idiosyncrasies of modern day Japan, and the difficulty of living outside the norms of society. In allowing the plaintiffs to speak so openly and boldly about their thoughts and situations, Of Love and Law makes a strong case for a change to start happening, and for society to stop being so harsh in their judgment of those who are a little different. As Kazu and Fumi happily move into their new home together, and despite all their challenges, have been newly certified as foster parent ready, we are left only with an irrefutable sense of hope in our hearts for the future of society as they continue to fight the good fight, with the promise of change that can and will happen sooner than we know it.
Of Love and Law plays on 8th October (sold out) and 13th October 2018 at GV Grand. The 10th Love and Pride Film Festival runs from 4th – 14th October at GV Grand and GV Vivocity. All films are rated R21. For full schedule and tickets, check out their website here
In London, Of Love and Law plays as part of the 2018 London Film Festival on 20th and 21st October. Tickets available here