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LOVE LIFE (2022, JPN) – 9/10

A year after Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s “Drive My Car” brought Japan the Oscar for the best foreign film, his colleague Koji Fukada presented a thematically and stylistically similar, but ultimately much, much better drama at the Berlin festival. And Fukada is not just anyone, an equally great art-filmmaker of a younger generation who has already won awards at Cannes, and “Love Life” is his best film since the iconic “Harmonium”. And it is quite obvious that Fukada is a spiritual follower of the French New Wave, especially his great role model Eric Rohmer, so “Ljubavni život” is a layered and life drama full of surprises.

It is a film that begins tragically, as if it couldn’t be more tragic. Taeko (Fumino Kimura) lives in a small apartment in Tokyo with her husband Jiro (Kento Nagayama) and lively seven-year-old son Keita from her first marriage. Their first neighbors are Jiro’s parents, who actually own the apartment they live in, and Jiro’s father is particularly dissatisfied and unhappy that his only son married a “second-hand” woman, as he says. However, Taeko still wants to please his mother-in-law and father-in-law, so on the occasion of his 65th birthday he will have a celebration, which will end tragically because little Keita will hit his head on the edge of the bathtub while playing and suffocate in the bathtub from which the water has not been drained.

Of course, such a tragedy will completely change all their lives. Most of all, of course, Taekin, who was left with her son many years ago by her first husband. Deaf-mute Park (Atom Sunada) just disappeared one day, and so he will suddenly appear when he accidentally learns that his son has died. The Korean Park is now a bum and homeless, and just as an ex will appear in her life whom she has just managed to forget, so will an ex appear in Jirov’s, whom he left precisely because of Taeko. And Fukada brilliantly builds this subtle, life-like, tender drama, and unlike “Drive My Car” which literally killed me with its slow pace and drag, “Love Life” is a film with an exceptional rhythm, especially the direction.

So even though “Love Life” is nominally a tragedy, it is not one of those movies that kills a person and throws them into depression. And that’s precisely because it is so lively, emotional, unpredictable, tender, the way the story develops is even almost absurd, full of surprises and twists that life can usually bring. Especially when up to a certain point he goes in the expected, somewhat normal direction and everything is less, more under control, and then after such a trauma and tragedy everything turns around and gets out of control. And the characters here are great, multidimensional and as time passes we really understand who they are and how they have been hiding from life for a large part, but now it is finally time for them to finally be honest.