Thursday, March 28, 2019

My Husband Won't Fit - a review

Only in Japan. 

For many of my years in Japan, that was one of my favorite games to play with other expats, as a way of processing the odd juxtapositions of things we encountered on a daily basis on a scale from surprising and incomprehensible to shocking and bizarre, things that would crop up in the course of a day in Japan that we thought would be out of place elsewhere. In fact, early on, sometime in the first of my 24 years there, when I was having a particularly hard time dealing with all the things I couldn’t make sense of, a friend said to me, “You know what your trouble is? You’ve never cultivated your appreciation of the absurd.” 

It was a magic moment. The next day I went out, saw something that didn’t compute, marked it as “absurd” and moved on. As the years went by, and my outsider perspective morphed into more of an insider perspective, I found less to comment on, of course, but to this day I still find myself saying with some frequency, “Only in Japan.”

I remember a conversation a couple of decades later that I had with the translator of Takeo Doi’s The Anatomy of Dependence, a book which touted itself as the “key analysis of Japanese behavior.” The trouble with Doi, I argued, is that he talks of Japan as if it were unique. But all cultures are unique!”

“Maybe so,” said my conversation partner, “but Japan is uniquely unique!”

I’ve left the academic world behind, and with it a primary interest in Japanese culture, but every once in a while something comes up which pulls me back into the swim. Such an experience hit the other day when I launched into my latest Netflix binge.

It’s a Japanese made-for-television ten-episode drama starring Natsumi Ishibashi and Aoi Nakamura. Subtitles are available in Spanish, Chinese and English. The Spanish title is Tenemos Un Gran Problema (We Have A Big Problem). The English title is My Husband Won’t Fit. The Japanese title is 夫のちんぽが入らない (Otto no chinpo ga hairanai - My Husband’s Cock Doesn’t Go In).

The protagonists are a boy and a girl – she’s a freshman, he’s a sophomore – who meet while she’s moving into a room ready to start college. He lives next door and barges into her life. In no time they’re sleeping together, but without the happy ending.

The problem is evidently some form of dyapareunia, possibly vaginismus, an inability of the vagina to open properly and function without pain. After repeated attempts to storm the ramparts, they give up, realize they very much love each other, and decide to live out a happy married life without penetrative sex.

Not exactly I Love Lucy.

Lest you think I mistranslated the Japanese title, I didn’t. There are several words in Japanese equivalent to “penis,” including “penis.” And “chinpo” isn’t one of them. “Chinpo” definitely means “cock, dick, prick, pecker, peter, willy or shlong” but not “penis.” The use of the word in a movie title is as shocking as it would be in English.

I’m finding myself back in the days when certain things related to Japan used to drive me up a tree. One of them is the character of Kumi, the female of the couple. The other is Kenichi, the male of the couple. He’s sweet, kindly, and uninformed. She’s vapid, clueless, and pathologically passive.

The world divides itself into two kinds of people, those who look upon Japanese passivity as “culturally-determined behavior” and those who find it a form of mental illness. I’m clearly in the latter group. If I have to read another review or commentary describing Kumiko as “cute,” I’m going to check into terrorism as a career.

There’s  a no-doubt-about-it bad guy in the movie: Kumi’s mother. Mama produced three daughters and decided that was one too many. Kumi is Cinderella to her sisters. All her life Kumi has had to listen to put-downs about her ugly looks, her lack of brains or personality, or other imagined failings. It’s a mystery she didn’t throw herself off a bridge by the age of ten. It’s never made explicit, but the audience has no trouble putting two and two together. A couple good sessions with a shrink might well convince Kumi it’s her mother who deserves to be tossed off a bridge, after which she needs to get herself to a good gynecologist and get this problem dealt with.

Instead this bozo of a movie plot goes ten painfully long episodes creating the image of a couple who “learn” that sex is not the same thing as love, and one doesn’t need children to be happy. Well, duh! Maybe they don’t need children, but giving up sex unnecessarily isn’t noble. It’s stupid. Not to say self-destructive to the psyche. Like admitting you love music, but not using a hearing aid when one is available when the hearing goes.

We are told this is a “true story,” whatever that means. There may well be a couple out there that are plagued by incurable dyspareunia. Lord knows lots of people have sexual dysfunctions of one sort or another. But here we keep coming back to the notion that suffering is noble, a Japanese trait right up there with hara-kiri and signing up with a kamikaze squadron, as far as I’m concerned. Why fix a problem when one can spend the rest of one’s life stewing about it?

And while we’re at it, let’s make a movie about it and show how true love wins in the end.

Gag me with a spoon.

The problem with the whole thing, you see, is that they don’t make the situation believable. Kimiko at some point discovers her husband is burning through his savings making weekly trips to Soapland, the Japanese way of doing whorehouses these days. And not telling her about it, but leaving the receipts where she can find them. More passive-aggressive behavior. And how does she respond? She stands in front of the place, bows deeply and begs it to "take good care of my husband." 

It’s not that they’re not having sex. They’re having plenty of it – just not penetrative sex. I won’t get graphic.

And while the massage parlor is taking good care of her husband, she decides the best way to take care of herself is to go online and make dates with strange men whom she meets in love hotels, where she has passionless sex – with full penetration, note, ­­– while ruminating about what beasts men can be.

Kenichi gives it away at one point when they are congratulating each other on having recognized they don’t need sex when he lets it slip out, “But it would be nice….”

A great series to watch if you’re interested in confirming the common view that Japanese culture is all about collectivity (watch how the couple allows the parents to dictate their lives) and self-sacrifice. And if you take pleasure in tossing your shoes at the TV set. There is some humor, and the scene where the parents get together to scold the couple for not producing children and end up screaming at each other sort of compensates for some of the long silences. And there's a whole lot of sweetness, some of it sincere. The couple clearly love each other deeply, and that emotion gets through, despite all the frustration.

If you do decide to watch it, and find you want to scream “GYNECOLOGIST! SEE A GODDAM GYNECOLOGIST” remember – it’s only a movie.

Apparently, Natsumi Ishibashi, who plays Kumi, made another movie this year, as well:
It’s called Zombies Come and I Reflect on my Life.

photo credit 


BoredNetflixAddict said...

This show is hilarious! I know she can have sex with other guys so why not her husband? there's probably something wrong with him, but he can do it with prostitutes? It's a conundrum. I am American but couldn't find anything else to watch on Netflix surprised to find I like this I learned a little about Japanese culture too. Kumi is way to shy to be a teacher...

Sylvia D'souza said...

Glad to find a review that I completely agree with! I wanted to shake the Kumi character... just didn't have patience for the long silences... i also just couldn't understand why she picked up men online because she clearly didn't seem to enjoy the experiences... what was she getting out of it? I found it disturbing that she was passive enough to let men molest her and somehow it wasn't a big deal... i was a bit confused in the end about how much of it was a reflection of Japanese culture and how much a distortion of it as shown in the series ...because not everything shown in say Indian movies is how things really work in India... but even in mainstream Indian movies it would be difficult to find so many dissociative aspects...

Movie Lover said...

I'm on Episode 5 where the date rape scene occurs and I agree with Sylvia. Really disturbing. Did Kumi not know that this was rape? Is Japan where we were 40 years ago with no word for "date rape"?
Since I;m a teacher, I loved watching the painful the out of control classroom scenes. Every teacher recognizes the innocent looking ring leader. The teacher's lounge was very different from a Noth American Teacher's Staffroom. They all seemed to be working in their Teacher Lounge.

KilmerScience7 said...

The episodes help me understand the sex cultures prevalent in the country while many young males of Japan profess to be virgins in their 30's abd 40's still according to statistics taken. There are the Japanese cartoons I used to idolize when growing up in Soth Korea now I learned these same cartoons also feature porns as well. I know of the painful history of Japanese soldiers' sexual abuse on Korean females when they colonized the country though the Korean men committed similar crimes against daughters and wives of Japanese generals when Japan was defeated and returning to their home. Still, their appetite for sex recorded in history from soldiers' mass scale of raping young girls in China to present day legal sexual entertainments prevalent in the country puzzle me. In one of the episodes, I can glimpse into the same curiosity of the creator of the story when the character who played Kumi's cousin explains to Kumi that Western culture 'corrupted' Japanese culture with the influence of Christianity with the concept of sexual chastity. There is that implication of historical sexual orgie practices common in the culture. Let's face it. All cultures share some typez of the past and present sexual orgy records (ex: Epstein) fueling the energy and the ugly appetite for sex trafficking. I applaud for 'My Husband Won't Fit' story helping the audience visit the culture and/ or reevaluate the trend awakening the consciousness in people. At least this was my experience. Questions like: What role does sex play in marriage? How much of priority should it take place in the relationship and in culture? In what context can it cause the detrimental role in marriage? Only when the couple agreed that sex is not love, they came to terms with their current situation and were able to move forward. Sex is not love? I question. Then why do couples feel betrayed when their partners sleep with someone else? Maybe sex is not everything might be better perspective? Relationships don't have to be perfect to work out is another thought perhaps? Love makes perfect can be another thought?

c_lima said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
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Sign Off

Amazon! said...

This show is maddening and I find myself absolutely hating her because she is so weak and passive. I am not exactly sure why I can't stop watching it. Go to the ding dang doctor and find out what the problem is! I am only on episode 3 and I can guess she has been sexually abused somewhere along the way, and her parents aren't exactly loving and sweet. It hits a nerve with me. Signed- Just call me Amazon :)

Unknown said...

I always liked Japanese movies. I like their culture, the plot of there movies and how they resolve the problem. Their movies always make me think....This movie is no different. I admit intimacy is important in a relationship. Intimacy and sex have different meanings. But, sex compliments intimacy. Combined it's powerful and helps to sustain a relationship.

Each couple have a right to define their relationship, marriage, and family. This movie intrigued me and made me sad because. I admit I'm westernized and I'm an American. I can't help but to feel their sex life could be fixed. They didn't have to suffer,but I respect there decision.

Ilovemovies said...

Why couldn't he just please himself (or her manually please him) until he came at the entrance?? I'm sure eventually she may have gotten pregnant. I was so frustrated the entire time with Kumi,she was just so timid! She would have solved a lot of problems if she had just spoken up!!

Renata Jigoveanu (Renee) said...

I find this review so bad and some of the comments as well. This Netflix series is based on an autobiographical book and it's a real story!!! The book is in Japanese and was not translated in other languages but there is a manga adaptation that was translated by fans in English.
This story is complicated and focuses on a lot of problems but very subtly...
A lot of people from other cultures that know nothing of the world around and other countries just judge and judge from their small little world, but they don't understand a thing!!!
The author of the book (which is the main girl character) goes to the fan meetings and book signings with masks even today...
The reason for her intimate problems is trauma, the reason she could not speak up is that women and men are not equal in Japanese society and because women are not accepted to be open about sex (and yes it's that bad that she could not even go to the doctor, she was that affected!!), the reason none of them could communicate is that even marriage is different in Japan (they are not Christian, they don't have the same view as a holy union, the values are different), so communication is affected (also they don't tend to express themself).
As I saw many articles, written by Americans (obviously not even researching the background and the story) only judging, I can say that this series can not be understood by people that don't know about Japanese culture and Japan as a country.

Just by knowing that her trauma and sickness could have been fixed if this would have had happened in another country... makes me so sad for them, they suffered a lot only because of the place they were born.

Alan McCornick said...


You are a generous soul. You are bending over backwards to be sympathetic to the plight of the female character, and there is always room for more sympathy in the world.

But you've got Japan all wrong. It's not another planet. It's a very modern country with a very cosmopolitan culture. Like all modern countries, it has a width and a breadth that is commonly underestimated, especially by those making cultural generalizations - the French are good lovers, the Germans like to march, etc. In fact, there is no justification to reducing Japan to the behavior of any particular subset of its people or behaviors. Anything that exists in Paris exists in Tokyo, the full range from the sublime to the ridiculous. If you really believe that Japanese women cannot be open about sex then you need to explain the huge size of the pornography industry.

The fact that it is a true story changes nothing. There are books, there is television, there is the internet. Information is out there if you make the effort to find it. This young woman is clueless not because she is Japanese; she is clueless because she never had the benefit of exposure to the world and lacks the wherewithal to seek answers.

The fact that Japan is not a Christian country is absolutely irrelevant. Neither are the countries of Europe anymore. Neither is an every-increasing part of America anymore, for that matter. Religion has nothing to do with the fact that this girl was abused psychologically by her parents; that can happen anywhere. Traumatized, yes. But you shouldn't mistake the observation that she is traumatized and stuck in a rut, spinning her wheels and incapable of rescuing herself from ignorance as judgment in the moral sense. You don't need to condemn the lost soul in order to point out that she's on the wrong track. There is no moral "judgment" involved here. There is only recognition of self-destructive behavior.

The story doesn't work for me because I don't buy the explanation that one is limited by one's culture and background. It's a big world. Millions break out of bad upbringing and tragic circumstances every day. I find no redeeming value in making a movie about a car stuck in the mud. Life sucks sometimes. I know that. But what I found so off-putting about this story was not the fact that the filmmaker chose to tell a story of woe. What was off-putting was the conclusion that was articulated that one could have a loving marital relationship without sex. One can, of course. If sex really is not an option, as is the case for a whole lot of people. But what is the advantage to suggesting abstinence to those who might not need to live that way? Bad enough when you reduce works of art to works with a message. But if you're going to do that, at least you can preach a meaningful message. The film fails on both accounts.

Renata Jigoveanu (Renee) said...

But it has... And they say it too that westerners are open-minded as for the porn industry (they are a mall percentage of people and they are not viewed normally by the society, trust me I even researched, and to tell you the truth even in the West there is a prejudice against porn stars).
Because even if we admitted or not the majority of Japanese women are used with their position... I was shocked to read surveys and even see interviews with people on the street, where their thought process was a bit unusual... Females said they are not ok with their partners hugging friends and having other female friends but they would be more forgiving and accepting of cheating... Also if you talk with Japanese and with other people that live in Japan or even married to Japanese partners they would mention that there are differences in their married life. There was even a couple that had a youtube channel the girl mentioned that the majority of the Japanese that she knew did not share a room together with their spouse, and this thing was a big thing with for her and that she had a serious talk with her husband before her wedding (she mentioned that the married life is so different, compared to what she saw around her in her home country).
I don't imagine Japan as being in the dark ages I know how modern it is and advanced but it is xenophobic and they are very far from understanding or even caring to step out of their country with a percentage of 80% people that never (and I mean never) stepped outside of Japan in their entire lives, they have their gate closed to the west in the past but even now they are not interested in other cultures generally and they have full stereotypes, they have their own industry in everything and they barely consume any outside cultures... It's easier to live as a foreign in Japane because you are not that pressured to integrate but it's hard to live as a Japanese woman and you can see it as people opt not to be in relationships and marry less and less, I saw a lot of documentaries and interviews with a woman talking about this.
As you mentioned about the character having a hard life people are all different so their reactions are different, she was clearly traumatized and that affected her decisions, but to tell you the truth there are many people that are desperate for validation from others because they are depressed and can't be good to themselves (I think those are the worst situations when your own enemy is you, you lost sight of your value completely and you stopped believing, also in Japan they don't take mental health seriously).
With how many suicides are you can't say they have a normal lifestyle... for me as I saw the series, I know the book and I read a lot about the culture and I talked to people, I kind of understand the process, for me it must have been "embarrassment and dark thoughts" because the writer(which is the person from the story) covers her face even today when she goes to fan meetings and so on. Also, it's mentioned that this is like a journal, it's not meant to make her look like a hero or main character it's just the story of what happened, it's raw and she made mistakes, it's supposed to be the story of her intimate life and how dark it can get when there is no information when she is traumatized when she is frustrated and scared and angry, her reactions are not always rational because she felt cornered because she did not know who to make happy and satisfied. We know that the west is individualistic (too much even, we lost the essence of what humanity means) but in Japan, it's not, the people do care too much about others, even at the cost of their own happiness.
If you go to Japan as a woman and you openly have a discussion about sex they will judge you like crazy, women can not have an open discussion, max if you are with friends at home... but they just don't do it, rarely would there be people that do it.