“Sweet Little Lies” – 2010 Japan Cuts Film Festival Review

“Sweet Little Lies” opens with a couple – played by Miki Nakatani (Ruriko) and Nao Omori (Satoshi) – going through a lovingly-framed sequence of a morning wake-up routine.  But little more than 10 minutes into the film, when Ruriko’s co-worker tells her that she and Satoshi “seem so happy together,” we realize that all is not what it seems.

Directed by Hitoshi Yazaki, the film is a calculated observation of an unraveling marriage, its sometimes imperfect narrative a mirror image of the imperfect relationship it portrays.  Communicating to each other by cell phone in the same house is just one of the many idiosyncracies that the husband and wife put up with, and it’s clear that it’s been going on for so long that neither side sees their respective behaviors as abnormal.  It is only when strangers ask pointed questions to Ruriko (a teddy bear creator) and Satoshi (an IT corporate drone) that the two characters independently examine the state of their relationship, taking risks to fill their emotional voids while hiding their actions from each other.

Yazaki’s last work, “Strawberry Shortcakes,” screened at the 2008 New York Asian Film Festival, and examined the lives and relationships of four young women in detailed precision.  Similarly in “Sweet Little Lies,” Yazaki takes his time showing all the subtleties – particularly when it comes to Nakatani’s character – but makes sure that these do not get in the way of the pacing.

As the story sails along and the lies pile up, one gets the sense that something is about to explode.  But while revelations occur, they do not unravel in an expected way, even up until the very end.   Does the film’s ultimate conclusion prove to be a fitting resolution?  Depending on the viewer, the answer could swing either way.  But that is to assume that situations in life are black or white; reality is not quite that simple, and the ultimate fates of Ruriko and Satoshi are as good as guess of the audience as it is for the characters themselves.

“Sweet Little Lies” is the closing film of the 2010 Japan Cuts Festival.  It screens Fri., July 16, at 8:30 p.m. at the Japan Society in New York, and director Hitoshi Yazaki will attend.  For tickets, go to japansociety.org/japancuts.