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Tokyo becomes a lonely place in Mayumi Yoshida’s “Tokyo Lovers”

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“Tokyo Lovers” (2018), dir. Mayumi Yoshida

 “This is not a love story. I hate love stories. If you’re single in this city, it’s the worst place to be.”

From the opening narration, Mayumi Yoshida’s “Tokyo Lovers” makes it clear that loneliness is one of the short’s major themes–especially when that feeling is heightened within the context of a densely-populated city like Tokyo. Tackling the subject matter by way of its two vastly different characters Aki (Mayumi Yoshida) and Paul (Jerome Yoo), Yoshida explores how meeting the right person can change the way you see yourself and your surroundings. 

Like the opening phrase suggests, the two well-written main characters are initially standoffish towards one another. Paul, a Canadian tourist, is in a hopeless romantic searching for love without any real plans. Similarly, Aki is a Tokyo native stuck in a loveless relationship where her boyfriend never spends time with her. After finding themselves in each other’s company, the two reluctantly hang out with one another, opting to spend time with one another rather than be completely alone during the holidays.

Both Paul and Aki have their own respective ways of dealing with loneliness, showcasing thoughtful cultural observations that the film includes. Paul searches for a partner through extravagant means (spontaneously traveling across the world). Compare that to Aki’s mentality of bottling up her feelings. That mindset can be seen when she tells Paul that Japanese people find it difficult to talk about uncomfortable topics such as family or relationships. Aki is hesitant to reveal her frustrations to Paul, putting up a natural barrier that keeps him at a distance. In scenes in which Aki goes through difficult situations like her boyfriend asking for money, she disregards Paul’s attempts to give her comfort. In this way, Yoshida is able to capture loneliness not only in the way that it pertains to both characters but also two completely different ideologies.

The natural chemistry between Paul and Aki works. Smartly, the film forces these characters to earn that deeper bond by having those uncomfortable talks. When Paul and Aki first meet and go on a day trip, they keep each other company but their interactions feel empty. This is well shown in montages where we don’t hear their conversations, visually showing the empty space between them. 

Aki (Mayumi Yoshida) and Paul (Jerome Yoo).

The true strength in the film is in its ending and how it nicely ties together the film’s messages about loneliness, while leaving some space for audience interpretation. At the end of the film, Aki finally opens up to Paul about her struggling relationship. For the first time, this conversation between the two feels light-hearted, fun, and simply enjoyable. The message here is that in order to find a true friend, one must allow themselves to open up despite how uncomfortable or scary it feels. Aki ends the film with her saying that “Maybe Tokyo isn’t so bad”, contrasting the opening line of the film. Brilliantly, the film avoids the cliché ending of these two becoming “lovers” through this ambiguity. They’re simply two individuals connecting with each other on a deeper level.

But while the film otherwise does a great job of visually portraying loneliness amongst a bustling cityscape, slightly overused narration flood the film at certain moments. An example that stood out is the conversation that Aki and Paul have on the swing set. The film should have avoided narration and just let the audience take in an otherwise intimate moment on its own. It is worth noting that while Aki’s narration is seamless enough throughout, contemplative moments like these should be felt rather than verbally spelled out. 

Nonetheless, “Tokyo Lovers” is a fantastic short film that details how two people from different cultures and locations experience loneliness. The story is well-crafted and the way the film examines loneliness both through the characters and culture feels very nuanced. Fans of great cinematography will also enjoy a lot of pretty shots as many scenes throughout consistently looked beautiful. It is worth mentioning how incredible of a feat it is that this film was so well made and enjoyable for a film with a skeleton crew. The New Year’s Eve Scene in particular was amazing and looked like it was beautifully choreographed. “Tokyo Lovers” remains a thoughtful look at how to deal with loneliness by learning to lower our personal barriers and allow authentic connections to be made with others.

Film pages: IMDb

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