Farewell: Comedy of Life Begins with a Lie (Japan, 2020) [JFTFP 2021]

Post-war Japanese urban life was filled with chaos, confusion, and forays into a new kind of life unfamiliar to a war-torn nation. Izuru Narashima’s latest film Farewell: Comedy of Life Begins with a Lie is a quirky little comedy that explores a facet of this new kind of life as seen through the eyes of a clueless philanderer and his many female conquests. It features interesting characters in interesting situations, but ultimately fails to make the kind of impact that its premise demands.

The plot revolves around Shuji Tajima (Yo Oizumi), the editor of a reputable literary magazine living a less than reputable personal life. In his circles he is known for two things: his frugality and his long string of mistresses whom he can’t seem to be able to abandon, even for the sake of his wife and daughter, whom he hasn’t seen since before the war. Fed up with the situation, he recruits the help of street urchin Kinuko Nagai (Eiko Koike). Tajima presents Kinuko as his fake wife, a ruse he hopes will encourage all his mistresses to leave him. Unfortunately, Shuji is a man with a big heart, and when push comes to shove, he finds these break-ups excruciatingly painful to execute. To make matters worse, he also falls for Kinuko despite his best efforts not to. As his predicament descends further into a farce, he struggles to make everyone happy, including his wife and daughter who seem to have had enough of Shuji’s womanizing ways.

The film begins with the introduction of the black markets, which serves as a constant backdrop for the story. Kinuko makes her meager living in the black market, while Shuji is almost killed by a black market thug over a watch and a wallet. The post-war setting of the film serves to contextualize the story and give and justify the motivations of Shuji and his many mistresses, but the connections are vague at best. Other than the film’s eye-catching cinematography which leans towards an “old-timey” sepia color-scheme, the film could have very well been set in modern times with little else changed. Shuji’s war-time trauma seems to barely matter when compared to his silly antics with the women in his life. Whenever the filmmakers try to sneak it in there, it feels forced and out of place.

The root of the problem here is that Shuji is a badly realized character. He does not deserve anything positive that happens to him – and to make matters worse, the writers don’t seem to think that he needs to earn his happy ending with Kinuko. He’s constantly given successes he does not deserve, including an unceremonious return from the dead which comes out of the blue. His desire to reconnect with his wife and daughter feels gimmicky at best, and dishonest at worst. In the end, he never learns to respect the women in his life, a sin that he’s too easily absolved of by his injuries as well as Kinuko’s inexplicable love for him. The film simply proceeds along a naive formula that doesn’t quite hold up and by the end leaves a sour taste in one’s mouth.

Farewell: Comedy of Life Begins with a Lie stumbles on to a great premise, but its average plot and shallow protagonist prevent it from making much of an impression as a poignant historical drama.

Farewell: Comedy of Life Begins with a Lie is available for a 48 hour rental window on February 23 from 18:00 (GMT) and March 5 from 18:00 (GMT) as part of the Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme.