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Rude to Love (Ai ni ranbou)

Japanese housewife descends into madness after husband threatens to end their childless marriage, and comes up with a very bizarre proposition - in the Official Competition of the 58th Karlovy Vary International Film Festival

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Momoko’s (Noriko Eguchi) relationship with Mamoru (Momoko Namoru) has become cold and listless. He travels “on a business trip” and returns with a strange scratch on his neck, which he blames on the razor blade. He often refuses his wife’s food, a transactional token of love and affection. He prioritise his work, his “travels”, his mobile phone and just about anything else ahead of his spouse. Their marriage isn’t at its pinnacle. In fact, these two people may have never had a passionate connection.

Despite the countless clues, Momoko wouldn’t dream of challenging the fragile equilibrium of their marriage. After all, they live in a comfortable house, and she has enough time in her hands to dress elegantly and to teach soap making at the local crafts school (a little hobby which allows her to earn a few extra yens). Japan remains a deeply conservative society: women are strongly encouraged to stay at home and to rely on their male counterparts as the main/sole breadwinners.

The subtle signs of dysfunction are everywhere. Someone repeatedly sets fire to the quiet neighbourhood’s garbage bins. Momoko’s cat disappears. She occasionally hears it meow, and suspects that it might be hiding under the floorboards. She communicates with a female friend on Whatsapp, who confides to her that she’s seeing a married man. The gynaecologist fails to identify the cause of Momoko’s constant cramps. Most crucially, her marriage remains childless.

Tragedy strikes when Mamoru announces that he’s seeing someone else, and makes a very peculiar proposition. Something so decent it’s indecent. He wrongly presumes that his wife is “level-headed” and would want to resolve the issue in a very civilised and polite manner. But the prospect of divorce is not conducive to courtesy. Instead, it is the titular rudeness that comes out. An infuriated Momoko immediately snaps. Her sweet and kind rival has to bear the wrath. Japanese cordiality is replaced by far less subtle and polite behaviour. Scornful gazing instead of deferential bowing. Angry shouting instead of friendly giggling. The prospects of an amicable breakup become very remote after Momoko buys an electric chainsaw.

Mamoru’s mother lives nearby, and reminds her son that his marriage was never built upon trust, and of the real reason why they tied the knot in the first place. Momoko eavesdrops on the conversation and feels increasingly alienated. Her mental health collapses even further, and she slips into near-psychosis. A hole in the ground which she carved with her own hands becomes an allegory of her maniacal behaviour.

Rude to Love is a very masculine film. Director Yukihiro Morigaki empathises with the suffering of his protagonist, however he never challenges the societal machinations that keep her imprisoned by her irrational devotion to her husband, and by the duty to have a child. In a patriarchal society, the onus of conceiving a baby is always on the woman. The failure to do so must be her fault; the possibility that the man might be infertile or have unviable spermatozoids is never taken into consideration. Momoko’s aspirations are deeply rooted in Japan’s strict gender roles. It would probably take a female to director to uproot those orthodoxies, yet those professionals are few and far between. The Japanese film industry remains just as gendered as the rest of the society.

Rude to Love just premiered in the Crystal Globe Competition of the 58th Karlovy Vary International Film Festival. An auspicious however unremarkable drama.

This isn’t the only movie in the event’s main competitive strand featuring a female protagonist having a meltdown after being asked for a divorce: the deeply humanistic Norwegian film Loveable (Lilja Ingolfsdottir) does precisely the same.


By Victor Fraga - 04-07-2024

Victor Fraga is a Brazilian born and London-based journalist and filmmaker with more than 20 years of involvement in the cinema industry and beyond. He is an LGBT writer, and describes himself as a di...

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