My Sweet Grappa Remedies (Japan, 2019) [Nippon Connection ONLINE]

40-year-old Yoshiko (Yasuko Matsuyuki) lives a content and simple life. She is single, works at a small publishing office, participates in office gossip, goes out with a co-worker Wakabayashi (Haru Kuroki) every payday, and enjoys a glass of sweet sake at home. After being introduced to a younger man named Okamoto (Hiroya Shimizu), Yoshiko carefully starts dating.

Akiko Oota’s first feature Tremble All You Want (2018) pictured a shy, young, nerdy woman overcoming herself and finding moments of love. Her follow-up, Marriage Hunting Beauty (2019), centered on a 30-something woman. This time, Oota turns her eye on the life of a woman in her early 40s. My Sweet Grappa Remedies is based on a novel by Jiro (Sissonne), a member of a comedic duo, who also wrote the screenplay.

Yoshiko’s life has taken on a route of daily routines. She takes good care of her belongings, almost like they are living persons. She regrets parking illegally as her bike is impounded, and she is happy to get it back. She loses a favorite earring, but assumes it has become lost by its own will. These are the familiar objects she has shared her life with. She looks curiously at neighborhood kids and wonders what kind of a mother she would have been. 

Her socially circles are small: work, some bars, the street, and her home. Her neighbors take notice when she decides to get a bed instead of sleeping on a futon on the tatami and it is here that her path to change begins: she buys high heels instead of comfy loafers and starts inserting small changes into her routine. 

Through her diary notes, we follow Yoshiko’s life through one and a half years. She starts writing these entries despite knowing that no-one will ever read them, not even herself. In film form, these notes record small changes in Yoshiko’s life, with each episode starting with a date, and a drawing depicting the season, a very Japanese type of image, like a simple calendar page. It is always accompanied by Yoshiko’s voice-over, expressing the feelings of her current state. Her seemingly uneventful life is explored through events that she herself makes meaningful as she comes to realizes that her actions make her who she is. 

The film’s visual style is simple: a few actors, a small, typically narrow and paper-filled Japanese office, Yoshiko’s small but very neat apartment, the generic streets of her neighborhood. The color scheme is limited and camera work remains simple, which is suitable for the story. In terms of editing, certain gestures are repeated, as if punctuations to the story while careful jump-cuts reveal new elements of Yoshiko’s life. An important feature are mirrors: we see often Yoshiko in front of a mirror, as her life seems to be centered on her self-inquiry on what she is, how other people see her, and what she is aiming finally to be. 

Although the plot suggests a realistic, slice-of-life film, Ooku adds moments of offbeat humor, as in her previous works, without ever reducing her characters to objects of ridicule. Somehow, this intimate film, filled with Yoshiko’s keen observances and enjoyment of everyday experience, is most suitable for our current predicament, which finds us contained by a virus and prompted to enjoy life’s small pleasures. 

My Sweet Grappa Remedies is showing at Nippon Connection ONLINE from June 9-14.