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Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Nippon Review: Of Love and Law

Of Love and Law (2017): Directed by Hikaru Toda.  Running Time: 94 minutes. 

Rating: 4/4

            These are trying times for humanity.  Faced with societal regression and environmental catastrophe, it is all too easy for those with heart and compassion to fall into despair at the state of things.  This makes examples like Kazu and Fumi all the more necessary for those of us facing this quandary, so that we don't forget that we who yearn for a better tomorrow are not few, but legion. 

            A gay couple who also happen to be lawyers, these two have dedicated their professional lives to combating discrimination against minorities and disenfranchised groups of all stripes.  This film by the remarkable Hiraku Toda uses a selection of cases the pair are engaged with as a window into their lives and worldviews, on what sorts of successes they are able to celebrate and the failures they have no choice but to endure. 

            The sampling of issues they are involved in include, but are by no means limited to, juveniles charged with crimes, a provocative female artist being suied over her "dangerous" vagina art, ethnic minorities, the LGBTQ community, and the cases of "unregistered" Japanese.  That last one refers to a small but not-insignificant number of people who, due to a very specific bureaucratic loophole regarding marriage law, the Japanese government literally can't recognize as people. 

            A film just focusing on the biographies and personalities of these two individuals would no doubt have been fascinating and moving enough, but the movie is smart enough to go the extra mile, looking beyond them to create a cross-section representation of disenfranchisement that leads the viewer to consider how both written law and broader culture in Japan (and, by extension, everywhere else) restricts and punishes those who, in any number of ways, stick in of the crowd. 

            As it goes on, you realize the film is less about putting these two on a saintly pedestial than about holding up their silent courage in the face of all the obstacles they have to endure.  For all their love and tenderness, they bear plenty of emotional scars from the myriad setbacks and tragedies they've experienced, and in the movie's most heart-wrenching moments it looks this squarely in the eye and doesn't blink. 

            It is eminently heartening and always necessary to be reminded of all those, everywhere in the world, fighting the good fight and refusing to cow to the darkness.  Few films strike me like this one did.  This is the definition of an essential, must-see work of cinema. 

-Noah Franc

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