Tokyo fiancée

Tokyo fiancéeSynopsis: Her head filled with dreams, Amélie, 20, goes back to Japan, where she spent her childhood. To earn a living, she decides to give private classes in French and meets Rinri, her first and only student, a young Japanese man with whom she soon has an intimate relationship. Between surprises, happy times and the pitfalls of a culture shock that is both poetic and amusing, she discovers a side of Japan she had never seen before…  

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Tokyo fiancée 7.5

eyelights: the fantastic setting. the quirkiness of the protagonist. the score.
eyesores: the aimlessness of the piece. the protagonist’s inexplicable worries.

“Je suis dans de beaux bras.”

‘Tokyo fiancée’ is a Belgian film based on the autobiographical novel ‘Ni d’Ève ni d’Adam’, by Amélie Nothomb. Nothomb, who was born in Japan, grew up in Belgium. She became a japanophile and decided to move back to Japan at the age of twenty to immerse herself in the culture; she wanted to become japanese.

The picture tells the story of a romance she developed with Rinri, a wealthy language student of hers. For their classes, he showed her around Tokyo while they conversed in French, gradually growing closer. But, although she loved him, doubts plagued her: his secretive nature led her to believe he was Yakuza.

‘Tokyo fiancée’ has been described as a cross between ‘Le fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain’ and ‘Lost and Translation’. This is a good assessment of what the movie’s like, but it over-estimates the picture’s ability to recreate the magic that imbued these other two films; sadly, it is not a sum of their parts.

Don’t get me wrong: ‘Tokyo fiancée’ is certainly charming in its own way: Amélie is portrayed as a quirky girlish young woman, the Philip Glass-like music box theme is playful and delicate, and the eccentricity of Tokyo is made gorgeous by the documentary-style cinematography and the director’s choice of subjects.

But it’s not enough.

The script is a bit aimless. Although we’re watching the couple’s relationship blossom, we don’t really know why or where it’s headed. We also don’t understand why Amélie has any reservations about Rinri; sure, he has a collection of Yakuza films and he disappears for hours on end… but why conclude he’s a gang member?

This is never established, and yet it’s meant to be the central tension of the piece. Since we can’t be convinced of its justification, it is immediately neutered. Between that and the inexplicable relationship, which can only be described as a “youthful romance”, there’s really nothing to move this picture forward.

To make matters worse, the picture becomes a bit random at the halfway mark, taking us to places or into situations that contribute nothing to our understanding of the characters or their relationship. When Rinri decides to ask for her hand in marriage, we don’t really see it coming nor understand her reaction.

By the third act, we have no insight into Amélie’s situation: They live together, but she’s become distant for some reason. She has a contract at a company, but we don’t know what she does. She is exhausted every day, but we don’t know why. Presumably, all of this is why she is sullen, but this is never articulated.

…even though the picture is narrated by Amélie herself.

Heck, even her friendship with a Québécois expat woman doesn’t provide us with any essential information. Typically, this would have been a vehicle for explaining the lead’s motivations or concerns. Here, instead they are superficial exchanges that amount to very little. If anything, it felt like a token friendship.

And yet I enjoyed the movie anyway. I adored seeing the sights with Amélie; Tokyo is an otherworldy place that I simply can’t get enough of. I am also totally enamoured with the score, and I appreciated most of the film’s self-consciously quirky quality (the artsy inserts, for sure, but NOT the cheesy musical number).

‘Tokyo fiancée’ won’t grab all audiences. I suspect that it might be a bit dull and uninvolving for most; it doesn’t make its protagonist relatable or understandable enough for us to really care about her. And her relationship, the central focus of the piece, is unremarkable, leaving little to sink one’s teeth into.

“Tout ce que l’on aime devient fiction.”

But, as a sort of Belgian travelogue, ‘Tokyo fiancée’ hits its mark.

Date of viewing: March 11, 2015

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