Director: Naoko Ogigami
Release: 14 October 2017 (London Film Festival)
From: Nikkatsu Corporation
Format: Theatrical Release
Age Rating: TBC
Tomo (Rinka Kakihara) is used to seeking refuge with her uncle Makio (Kenta Kiritani), but after her mother’s latest disappearance she finds things a little different. Makio has a girlfriend now, and Rinko (Toma Ikuta) adores being Tomo’s mama — teaching her to knit and making her charaben for school. The trio become the perfect picture of a conventional family, but outside their flat the wider world is less accepting. Rinko, afterall, is a trans woman, and the fact that “God made a mistake” and had her born a boy has been a constant source of conflict. This is the scene set for Close-Knit, a poignant film about identity, acceptance, and family by Naoko Ogigami.
It is safe to say that the dynamics between the main characters are key to this film, and the chemistry between Toma Ikuta, Kenta Kiritani, and Rinka Kakihara is definitely a palpable force. Kiritani is the rock that supports them but its Kakihara that’s the most impressive, she conveys her character’s emotions well and is a natural-born actor which makes it even more surprising that this is her acting debut. The film also depended largely on Ikuta’s take on Rinko, and through his performance he makes Rinko a fully-realised character, presenting her as a kind and gentle soul who just wants to raise a family of her own — something that was very important for Ogigami’s intended message of acceptance.
What truly makes Close-Knit, however, is how the transformative nature of Tomo and Rinko’s relationship parallels and spills over into their other interactions and narratives. Tomo’s acceptance and growing understanding of Rinko helps her support and build a relationship with her classmate Kai, a boy coming to terms with his own sexuality in the face of ostracisation and a homophobic mother. Rinko’s mother, Fumiko, in contrast, provides one of the most touching scenes of the film in showing the breadth of her love and support for her child — a scene notably based on the actual story of a mother and her trans daughter.
These narratives, along with the end of the film, underscore the harsh realities of Japanese society and attitudes, thereby grounding the film as critique and commentary in the midst of its wistfulness. It is the juxtaposition of this gravitas with an otherwise uncompromising lightness that makes Close-Knit such a wonderful film. Hopefully, through this film, we will see some change to the close-minded attitudes of society both in Japan and the world.
Review by Roxy Simons