“One person’s Trash is another persons Treasure”, but with so much stuff out there how will you ever know which is which? Well, just follow the Raggedyman as he uses his extensive experience of watching practically anything that crosses his path to sieve through the old, the obscure, and the just plain odd so you don’t have to. Take his hand as he leads you through cult classics, underground favourites, forgotten wonders, and new discoveries to let you know if it’s celluloid Trash or easily passed over Treasure.
Because it’s always good to go outside of your normal world, for this trip into obscuria we’re having a watch of a Japanese romantic comedy-drama. Based on the 2015 comic series “BL Mangaka Desukedo Kekkon Shitemo Iidesuka” by Haruki Fujimoto, who is also credited at writing the screenplay, Wedding Bells For The Otaku is an hour-long made-for-TV special. Directed by Toshimitsu Chimura, who probably got the job due to working on other nerdy TV series, it’s the kind of show that Japanophiles will probably wax lyrically about for many moons. Well, I’m not writing for them and any of their apologist behaviour, so my advice is that if you ever find this in a bargain-bin you should leave it there. Unless you know a J-Drama obsessive you can up-sell it to.
The movie follows the follows Haruko (Chiaki Kuriyama), a 34-year-old comic artist and writer whose job is making comics about young gay men (also known as boys love or “BL”). She has the grand fortune of a job she absolutely adores making the kind of content she loves, and the apparently great misfortune of being single. So, one day she decides to get married, even though writing Boys Love comics makes her more of a social pariah than being 34. I’m not quite sure why though, as it appears to pay for a nice apartment and a nicely stocked wardrobe.
This is a good set-up for an interesting investigation into the dating mores of Japan, the place of homosexuality within the culture, and the nature of relationships between the titular Otaku (obsessed nerds). However, none of that is covered here, especially as there are ad-breaks to think about and an audience that is judged to be zoned out on Mandrax. What we have is a by-the-numbers, predictable, and ultimately rather dull story with precisely one twist that is about five-times less impressive than it thinks it is. There is also the small issue that the camera completely fails to hide how pretty Haruko is, and the eventual love interest Nakano (Jun Kaname) lookslike a boy band member with slightly ruffled hair wearing a Paddington Bear coat as a disguise.
Before we get to that though, there are the obligatory shitty dates to get through. There is a mixer where everyone else is 20 and in management, there is the airsoft nut who just isn’t that into Haruko, and then there is the camera man who isn’t that into Haruko and is quite clearly a sexist pig who’s utterly up himself. All of these knock Haruko’s self-confidence, though probably not as much as her assistant Kiriko (Hinako Sano) going out with a magical pixie boy Ikuta (Shingo Fujimori). Other than reminding Haruko that she’s 34 and single, Kiriko’s main line of conversation is how much Ikuta Shingo Fujimori loves her, is fully accepting of her job, and probably has farts that smell of roses. It’s a miracle that Haruko didn’t throw Kiriko out of the window, although I’m quite sure he’d still love Kiriko even if she’s a pancake.
The more interesting bit of the first half is the scene in a cat café where we actually get to see two gay men, although not for any supportive or representational reasons. The two men are your classic effeminate caricatures, with no presence or purpose other than being gay. Kiriko and Haruko then instantly start discussing them in an admiring but highly fetishistic and fantastical manner, further stripping them of being actual people. For a film that’s all about trying to be tolerant of other people’s interests, this moment doesn’t do BL creators any favours, as they just come over as creepy and distant from their subject of obsession. It also does nothing to counter the homophobia behind the rejection from the non-otaku about BL comics, which is a massive disservice but probably also a stretch for something that appears to be churned out for a mainstream audience.
Eventually Nakano turns up and he and Haruko fall in love, despite him being a maths nerd and her drawing stuff. From the moment they meet there is absolutely no question about if they’ll be a couple, because the onscreen chemistry is screaming “get a room!”. So we get thirty minutes of bumbling around and discovering *gasp* that they’re great for each other. There’s also a trip to an aquarium, which is lovely as they’ve got penguins and sharks on display. Though not in the same tank, as that would just be horrible.
Unfortunately, there is also a misunderstanding to give us some 4th act drama, which hinges on an absolutely stupid joke that tries to be twee but ends up being cringy, and a chase sequence that strongly suggests Haruko is a hell of a day drinker. Still, with no emotional or narrative tension to be found anywhere, something had to go in to give it all the fig leaf of “will they, won’t they”. And that’s where the basic problem really shows itself: there is no subversion of the form in any part of this. The plot is by the numbers to the point of tedium and it’s all very heteronormative, middle class, and beige. There are some “go on my nerds!” moments, but that’s about as exciting and controversial as it gets, and even then, they are depicted in such a meek manner that they are depicted in that these two could just be big into cooking shows for the difference it would make. It could be argued that it’s cheesy and cute, but everything is so downplayed it doesn’t even manage to do that in an inspiring or imaginative way.
No amount of fansplaining is going to convince the regular viewer that it isn’t 60 minutes of inevitability trash, no matter how much Pocky you spit at them. There are better, more engaging Japanese films out there, so this isn’t just some cultural translation issue, and made for TV films don’t have to be this flat and safe. It might possibly hit with the tweens market, but even then they should be demanding more from their content. This is mild to the point of flavourless, even if it has some minor trappings and suggestions of trying to be way more interesting and impactful than it ever actually is.