Tokyo Fiancee — Film Review

Tokyo Fiancée

Directed by Stefan Liberski



This is a 2014 film is about a young girl searching for a personal identity.  At age 20 she decides to move to Japan from Belgium with the single-minded ambition to become a Japanese.  There was precedent for it.  She was born in Japan of Belgian parents, but left Japan with her parents for Belgium at age 5.  For reasons that are not explored, by age 20 she is poised to reject her Belgian identity and adopt the persona and lifestyle of a Japanese.  However, she has no idea what she is stepping into.

She advertises herself as a French teacher and finds a Japanese guy (Taichi Inoue) roughly her age who is in love with France and wants to learn the French language.  He is from a well to do family and eventually falls in love with Amélie (Pauline Etienne).  He introduces her to the inner aspects of Japanese culture not ordinarily visible to visitors and foreigners.  The more deeply Amélie becomes immersed and knowledgeable in the Japanese culture, the more estrangement she feels and begins to have second thoughts about her projected adoption of Japanese identity.  With Rinri pressing her for marriage she realizes she is in a crunch and is not quite sure whether and how to get out of it.  Much of the film is taken up with this inner struggle over what to do about Rinri and his marriage proposal.  She accepts an engagement ring from him, but will not go so far as to set a wedding date — hence the title Tokyo Fiancée, rather than Tokyo Marriage, or Tokyo Wife.

The issue is resolved by an external event rather than an evolution and inner growth within Amélie.  I found this dissatisfying.  It may have been historically plausible, but I would rather have seen Amélie come to her decision based on the merits and on a growing realization of who she was and how she saw herself as a person.  The film did not give us this.  Amélie is goes back to Belgium in roughly the same place she was when she left.  However, I do not think she will be going back to Japan again with a determination to adopt a Japanese identity.

A great deficiency in this story is the lack of background on Amélie’s life in Belgium.  We never see the inner dissatisfaction that motivated her to leave Belgium and strike out for Japan.  We never see what prompted this determined rejection of her Belgian aspect.  Her parents are never mentioned, although Rinri’s parents are portrayed and their presence influences the direction of the romance between the two young people.  Being unable to see anything of Amélie’s inner self and the events and circumstances that gave rise to her self -defined predicament make it hard to understand why she is in Japan and what would represent a solution for her.

Rinri on the other hand knows exactly who he is and what he wants, and he is unprepared to deal with a confused, ambivalent western girl.  In the end (after the movie concludes) he marries a traditional Japanese woman in an arranged marriage, which is what most Japanese men do.  The film points out that it is rare in Japan to see a Japanese man with a gaijin (foreign) woman, but it is quite common to see a Japanese woman with a gaijin man.  To explain why this is would take us far afield from the film, but a vague hint is offered in the brief glimpse of Rinri’s parents’ marriage, and Amélie’s avoidance of his parents afterwards.  This might have been the beginning of her own self doubts about the course of action she had embarked upon — particularly the prospect of marrying into Japanese society, which is the expectation for a well identified Japanese woman.

I wondered who the intended audience for this film is?  It must be mainly for westerners.  I couldn’t imagine Japanese women being drawn to a film that featured a gaijin woman involved with a Japanese man, and I don’t think it would appeal to Japanese men who tend to avoid emotional entanglements with western women.  The film will have some appeal to people who are fascinated with Japan and its culture.  The story line does hold one’s interest, but it is not exactly a great love story.  The girl is much too weak a character, and the plot revolving around a confused, immature girl who doesn’t know herself and lacks the will and the vision to be effective in a sexual relationship with a man, is not the stuff of a noteworthy romance.

The film is in three different languages: mostly French and Japanese with some English.  English is subtitled.