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  • Writer's pictureBen Turner

Matcha & Vanilla *

Starring: Oyoko Kudo, Tomoko Hayakawa

Director: Hamish Downie

Country: Japan

In the debut feature from director Hamish Downie, we follow Ai (Kudo) and Yuko (Hayakawa), who are a lesbian couple that have lived together for a decade. When the latter is diagnosed with terminal cancer, they struggle to make ends meet financially or to get help from a society that isn’t sympathetic toward a same-sex couple. As the world crumbles around them, they try desperately to keep themselves together.

In the film’s opening scene, the couple meet in a bar, where one orders matcha and the other orders vanilla. This becomes a recurring theme throughout the film, with the vanilla representing the sweeter side of life and the matcha representing the bitter. It’s a fairly obvious motif, but this long metaphor does add a whimsical element to what is otherwise an over-earnest and bleak movie.

The film is slow. Painfully slow; dragging its feet at every scene. Shots that could easily be cut away from don’t, with the camera observing sequences for double the time needed. We observe the characters’ sadness and grief for a long, long time and this slothful pacing would test the patience of, well, a sloth. As a result, the film suffers severely from inactivity syndrome, despite having plenty of plot points along the way.

The leads are quite clearly committed to authenticity, immersed in the sadness of this piece about loss, but the film is in desperate need of a more ruthless editor. And as for the abstract vignettes featuring tunnels, bridges and a traditional dancer, they just cause the pace to drop even further, feeling pointless, absurd and distracting. As a result, this is a painfully sluggish film that dawdles at a glacial speed.

UK Release: 24th December 2021 on VOD on GagaOOLala


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