Split between 1980’s Tokyo and Shizuoka, Yuhihiko Tsutsumi’s 2015 romantic comedy ‘Initiation Love, イニシエーション・ラブ)’ appears to explore the struggles faced by a couple navigating first love and long-distance relationships; a coming of age tale with aspects that many will find relatable.
Split into two clear sections, visualised through the changing of a cassette from side A and side B, Mayuko and Suzuki’s relationship is seen to evolve from innocence, inexperience, and exploration to lifestyle incompatibility, emotional trauma, and, ultimately, physical violence.
The two meet during a group dinner, where socially awkward and slightly overweight Suzuki appears to gain the interest of ‘out-of-his-league’ Mayuko. Such is Suzuki’s adoration for Mayuko, that he makes increasingly drastic changes at her suggestion; a haircut, new clothes, learning to drive, and significant weight loss.
“The greatest success of this film is its clever use of time, which relies on the subconscious expectation of the audience for the plot to progress chronologically.“
Suzuki is ultimately transformed into the more conventionally attractive ‘Takun’ (a nickname also gifted to him by Mayuko, ‘Mayu’), who is introduced to the audience at the outset of ‘side B.’
Throughout the course of the second section of the film, Mayu gains increasing sympathy from the audience as her sweet naivety and straightforward desire to be loved seems increasing far from the interest of increasingly arrogant Takun, who now lives and works in demanding Tokyo.
No longer interested in her emotional needs and frustrated by the constraints of distance, Takun becomes increasingly violent towards Mayu and embarks upon an affair with a colleague. This plunges heartbroken and emotionally traumatised Mayu even deeper into the affections of the audience.
However, not all is as it seems.
if you have the intention of watching this film (which I would strongly advise) this is your spoiler alert. Stop reading, for now, see the film, and revisit this article for my concluding thoughts.
The greatest success of this Initiation Love is its clever use of time, which relies on the subconscious expectation of the audience for the plot to progress chronologically. The final five minutes throw the audience’s understanding of the film they have just observed on its head, boosting it from a sometimes funny, sometimes emotive yet fairly generic depiction of young love to something far greater.
Initiation Love concludes by having Takun from ‘side A,’ meet Takun from ‘side B,’ revealing that this film has not followed the progression of a single relationship, but two which have run in succession with one another. Mayu is the common factor.
This is not your average ‘affair,’ however. It becomes apparent that Mayu’s sweet, stereotypically feminine, and seemingly one-dimensional character is something of a façade. Beneath this surface-level character depiction is more dark and deceitful tendencies. Most disturbing, the use of the same nickname ‘Takun’ for both partners.
The depth of this deceit is revealed to the audience through a series of flashbacks, causing a complete re-evaluation of what has just been observed.
Thanks to the Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme (http://www.jpf-film.org.uk), currently journeying around the UK, I was recently able to delve into the world of contemporary Japanese film, for the first time.
If you like to explore more movies like Initiation Love then check out more of Japan Nakama’s Cinema section.
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