There’s a wrenching fracture at the heart of Hikaru Toda’s sophomore documentary feature Of Love & Law, between those who can bask in the glow of a queer sun and those who need to hide in the uncomfortable embrace of conformity. Even when taking part in Osaka Pride, at the very beginning of the film, some people ask not to be filmed as they fear to be recognised by co-workers and families who could then out or discriminate against them. It’s something that many of us have experienced or still are experiencing. It’s that shiver down the spine when, leading a double life, sometimes we’re free to act and talk as we’re meant to, and other times we weigh every word and feed people white lies. The more conservative the country we’re born into is, the more exacerbated our inner struggle is.
Although fairly gay-friendly on the outside – just think of all the yaoi and yuri mangas proudly arranged on the shelves of a random multi-storey department in Akihabara – Japan is, in reality, a country slowed down by endless rules and restrictions, where personal affirmation is sacrificed on the altar of uniformity. Activists for LGBTQ+ rights are still having a hard time urging the country to recognise at least the most basic of a civil union for same-sex couples as Japanese Law is a sticky knot of codes and contradictions. In the wake of Taiwan’s landmark decision to legalise same-sex marriage (a first in Asia), Japan’s main opposition parties are trying to ride the wave and push through a new bill to follow in Taiwan’s steps. Burdened by a wealth of other political issues, the Liberal Democratic Party, which has been ruling the country almost non-stop for the last sixty-four years, will hardly follow through with the bill, missing once again the chance at catching up with progress.
As, nationwide, the situation appears quite dim, slowly but surely beacons of hope keep popping up in different Japanese cities and wards. By next year, there will be more than twenty realities offering same-sex couples “partnership certificates” entitling them to some benefits, although pretty much symbolic. Osaka became one of those in 2018, but it didn’t stop Fumi and Kazu – the two lawyers featured in Toda’s documentary – holding their own personal wedding party back in 2011, where a bunch of friends and family gathered to celebrate their love. An amateur video of that special day is only one of the many glimpses at Kazuyuki and Masafumi’s life together, which Toda gives us in Of Love & Law. Presenting smooth transitions between three different cases the two lawyers battle for in court, it’s Fumi and Kazu’s honest and tender relationship that holds everything together.
Opening on a sunny day at the bustling Osaka Pride, we immediately meet with Fumi and Kazu – two adorable dorks sporting a couple of colourful t-shirts with rainbow accents while choreographing a silly dance for when they’ll step on the main stage. Jumping from the Pride universe to the reality of their daily working life is just a matter of a few minutes. We are then teleported first to the cosiness and intimacy of their flat and then to their shared office. What follows is a journey into three lawsuits the two have taken up, each of them dubbed as if they’d anticipate the ultimate smack-down in a shonen anime: Police vs Vagina, Osaka vs Teacher, and Law vs Child. Providing assistance to an artist accused of breaking the obscenity law for her vagina-shaped works, a teacher who lost her job for refusing to stand up during the national anthem, and a couple of people whose identity is negated for not being registered in the National Registry, the film proves that whoever has experienced what being an outsider feels like is more willing to stand up for diversity.
Among the many merits of the film is the total defiance of any labelling of sorts. Of Love & Law is not a queer film, nor a documentary on civil rights, nor a manifesto for a better and more inclusive Japan. It’s all of them together. It shows what it means to be a family, no matter the gender of the parties involved. It advocates for everyone’s right to be different and pursue their own ideals. It lingers on the rough edges of depression, not refraining from showing Fumi’s beautiful heart and all those insecurities that make him human.
Of Love & Law presents a cohesive narrative that demands social justice while depicting how natural would it be to be just as accepting as Fumi’s ward, Kazuma, is. “I don’t see where the problem is. It’s normal,” he says in one of the last sequences of the film, while talking about how loving and happy the two lawyers are as a family. These are the words we should treasure. These are the words we should carve in our hearts and by which we should live our lives. Everything that could scare us, everything that could seem different to what we’re used to it’s just normal as it undoubtedly is for the people involved. It only took the pure love shared by Fumi and Kazu to realise it.
by Serena Scateni
Serena Scateni is a freelance film critic and writer based in Edinburgh. In the past, she’s been spotted piling up degrees from universities in both Italy and Scotland, claiming she did that as she loved research. A moment before embarking on a PhD, she stepped back and decided to put academia on hold for a while. Now she’s filling her days watching films, talking about films, and writing about them. She loves Japan but also East-Asian cinema as a whole. Bonus points to queer films and features directed by women. You can follow her on Twitter at @29s____