Saturday, September 9, 2017

Close Knit - a film review

Kenta Kiritani (Mikio), Rinka Kakihara (Tomo),
and Tomo Ikuta (Rinko)
The film, 彼らが本気で編むときは (Karera ga honki de amu toki wa) – in English, Close Knit – is a must-see. It made its first appearance at the Berlinale last February, opened later that month in Japan, and I saw it last night at the New People Cinema in San Francisco.  All out-of-the-way places as far as Hollywood is concerned. But it deserves the widest possible viewing and I can only hope word gets around fast.

Close Knit is the story of an eleven-year-old girl, Tomo, being raised by a single mother who neglects her, comes home drunk, and then runs off with someone, and not for the first time. Tomo knows the drill. She goes to her uncle, her mother’s younger brother, who takes her in. This time, though, Tomo discovers that Uncle Mikio has a live-in girlfriend, Rinko. Rinko, it turns out, was born a boy but is now a post-surgical transsexual woman.

Tomo’s life goes from darkness to light overnight. Rinko develops a strong affection for the lost little girl and in no time Tomo has not one but two caring parents who actually begin thinking about the possibility of adopting her.

Outside this warm and welcoming new home, things are not so idyllic. In a supermarket one day,
Tomo Ikuta, when he's not
they run into one of Tomo’s classmates, Kai, and his mother. The mother has been warning him to stay away from “such people” as Tomo and her family, an ironic bit of bigotry which backfires considering that Tomo had been going along with classroom bullies in shunning Kai for being gay and he ends up in the hospital after a suicide attempt.

How the story turns out is best left for viewing this almost impossibly touching treatment of beautiful kindly folk living in a harsh homophobic environment. The title comes from the fact that Rinko has channeled her anger and hurt into her knitting, and has been planning for some time to knit 108 penises – 108 being the Buddhist number of “earthly
Kenta Kiritani, when he's not being a nerdy
but sensitive uncle
temptations” one must overcome. Rinko has determined to set them on fire to symbolize her acquisition of a female identity. She succeeds in getting Tomo involved, and eventually Mikio as well, also as a means of channeling anger and disappointment.

The idea of knitting as mental health therapy, writer/director Naoko Ogigami tells us, comes from personal experience, when she returned to Japan after six years in the States to hard times. She also had to channel her dismay that Japan, while gradually coming to terms with homosexuality, was still a long ways from treating trans people with the respect they deserve. The result is a remarkably understated story told with exquisite Japanese sensibility. The acting is superb.

family photo credit (from a review worth reading)

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