Is knitting an apt metaphor for the struggles of alternate families? It can be, under the right hands. As Close-Knit shows.
Close-Knit (彼らが本気で編むときは) Synopsis
11-year-old Tomo is forced to turn to her uncle Makio for help when her mother again abandons her. Makio grudgingly brings Tomo home to temporarily live with him, but not before warning Tomo that he now has a live-in partner, someone who’s a little different. That someone turns out to be Rinko, a transgender woman who is both kindly and loving. Through Rinko, Tomo then learns knitting. Not just making scarves and mufflers, but the art of painstakingly knitting away one’s sorrows.
I’ve mentioned many times on this blog and elsewhere that I’ve long been fascinated by Japan. And not just because of the country’s unique pop culture offerings.
I’m fascinated by Japanese mythology, history, and art. Doubly, perhaps even triply more so, I’m amazed by the contradictions that harmoniously co-exist in this country, or at least seem to peaceful co-exist. An example of which being how (most) rowdy schoolboys obediently suit up once they reach shakai-in i.e. working age.
Or how a country so renowned for social conformity celebrates alternate geek cultures like nowhere else.
Or how LGBT Japanese characters, which are a staple in Japanese entertainment and culture since medieval times, are today, still denied full legal rights.
Close-Knit offers a glimpse into the struggles behind that third contradiction, one that is melodramatic for storytelling effect but nonetheless still affecting and heartfelt. Protagonist Rinko, superbly portrayed by Ikuta Toma, might come across as defeatist by western standards. But in the context of Japan, I feel the character offers a believable explanation for the paradox. In Japan, LGBTs are politely tolerated, maybe even celebrated, when seen from a distance. Not the case though, when in one’s immediate family or social circles. Or even residential neighbourhood.
The interweaving of Buddhist stoicism adds a touch of philosophy to the tale too. A colouring that was initially intriguing but ultimately felt somewhat too escapist for me. (Whether it works in the end is subjective, put it that way) That aside, Close-Knit, on the whole, is a graceful episodic tale that implores viewers to reflect on the silent misfortunes underlying Japanese societies.* I add that it’s a production highly watchable too for the impressive performances of young actors Kakihara Rinka and Komie Kaito. That hospital visit scene … the duo talked as if they are elderly folks who have known each other for decades!
* LGBT struggles aside, the movie comments on single-parenthood and school bullying too. Both are issues of great concern in Japan.
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