Love certainly is a complicated feeling, especially upon the sight of two faces you believe to be one. In Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s Asako I & II, we have a tale of a peculiarly complicated romance, one that spans over the course of a few years centering itself around our title character Asako – who experiences love for the first time, only to find herself trapped in another triangle. But being as this is the first time I had seen anything by Hamaguchi, I wasn’t so sure what I was set to expect from Asuko I & II, but since then I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. It’s a tale of seeing double, but also a touching coming-of-age story, and I even found myself moved in ways that I wasn’t expecting. And it’s all built up by a simple notion of how complicated that very feeling of love is, especially when we can’t get certain images out of our head.
The titular character Asako is played by Erika Karata. In the film’s opening scene, we see her meeting face to face with a boy named Baku, whom she falls in love with. Out of nowhere, Baku suddenly disappears and years later, Asako has moved to Tokyo. In a matter of moments though, Asako ends up running into another person that reminds her of the sort of person that Baku was, named Ryuhei. Spanning seven years, Hamaguchi’s film captures what it truly feels like to have a certain image of what you define as the perfect romance stuck in your head and the effects it can have upon a false copy, but even if a story like this could have been made into any other romantic comedy, there’s a sense of compassion present in the filmmaking here which also makes for an experience beyond worthwhile.
Hamaguchi pictures his titular character Asako in the perfect light, she’s an ordinary girl searching only for what it is that makes her truly happy in her life. But she believes it to be love, and all so suddenly it just ends up disappearing. Yet at the same time the film is all about how the circumstances that we all view to be so extraordinary only define the way we connect with one another, whether they can unite us and build up one’s spirit or break them. Yet Hamaguchhi never punishes Asako for being a naive character as she is, instead we already get a sense of what it is like to be caught between such odds given where one thinks they find themselves feeling committed, and that’s also what makes Asako I & II so heartbreaking. It’s heartbreaking because of the way in which one can feel they experience love at first sight, and the idea of commitment – but in Asako’s own eyes, it’s the one thing that keeps her moving forward.
Being told within an episodic structure, Asako I & II also remains so empathetic to Asako’s own confusion as it manifests itself into many different forms throughout the film. It’s vital to seeing how love changes the way Asako sees life because of the image of Baku that retains its presence all throughout the film, now that she has met a person who may or may not have been a perfect double. With capturing said confusion, Hamaguchi also shows with such ease the effect that it has upon many of Asako’s own friends – and those who she knows that she loves most. But it’s also vital to the manner in which she grows all throughout the film, because she has a chance at being with the one person she truly loves most yet it’s only an image of another that keeps her from venturing properly.
I could watch at least four more hours of this – at least that’s what I said to myself after having finished the film and keeping Hamaguchi’s own Happy Hour in mind given said film’s running time. I’ve never seen another film that captures the very confusion of what it is like to be in love the same way that Asako I & II does, especially given such a naive point of view like that of Asako’s own. But that’s also what I find makes this film so powerful as it is. In one’s own youth, they still remember the very image of someone that they define to be perfect, they fall in love almost instantly – yet over the years, they pursue someone else next. So what really does it feel like to have that image remain in your head, and you have a chance with this person – but you committed yourself to someone else?
Watch a clip right here.
All images via TIFF.
Directed by Ryusuke Hamaguchi
Screenplay by Ryusuke Hamaguchi
Starring Masahiro Higashide, Erika Karata, Kōji Seto, Rio Yamashita, Sairi Ito
Daichi Watanabe, Kōji Nakamoto, Misako Tanaka
Release Year: 2018
Running Time: 120 minutes