Hikaru Toda’s Of Love and Law could easily have filled its 90-minute running time only with stories of the realities of gay life in Japan, but it’s far more ambitious than that. In addition to depicting the story of Masafumi Yoshida (“Fumi”) and Kazuyuki Minami (“Kazu”), a married gay couple whose Osaka law firm often handles cases that deal with civil rights violations, Of Love and Law also delves into Japan’s alarming turn toward nationalism and the curbing of free speech, the now-famous case of Rokudenashiko (who was charged with obscenity for distributing images of her vagina), and the heartbreaking struggles faced by the thousands of Japanese who are not listed in Japan’s family registry system, effectively rendering them nonexistent in the eyes of the state. Wisely, though, the film keeps Fumi and Kazu at its center, and it’s impossible not to be moved by their tireless efforts on behalf of those that society would rather remain invisible, as well as the genuine sweetness of their own love story.
Of Love and Law was filmed over several years, and my only issue with the film is that its occasional intertitles don’t give us any sense of a timeline–it’s clear that quite a bit of time passes, but it would be nice to know just when key events take place. For anyone who hasn’t spent time in Japan, some of the issues addressed may also be hard to understand (the nature of the koseki, or family registry system, for example). Still, those are minor quibbles. The film is polished, tightly structured, and equal parts enraging, moving, and humorous. There was plenty of crying at my screening, and full-throated cheers after the credits rolled.
Of Love and Law follows Fumi and Kazu as they deal with their own struggles as a gay couple in Japan–their efforts to educate others about why gay couples deserve the same civil rights as straight couples, their desire to foster a child, their parenting of a homeless youth, and their day-to-day conversations about things like buying a house in the countryside. This is the thread that binds everything together, though the film is structured around the individual cases that the two lawyers are working on: Rokudenashiko’s obscenity trial, multiple cases of people trying to obtain an official family registration document, and the case of a teacher who was fired for refusing to stand for the national anthem at a public school. Kazu and Fumi work tirelessly for very little money, constantly taking calls from clients and rarely getting to bed before midnight. The nature of their work clearly takes its toll, but they persevere, and they’re very good at what they do, even when the deck is stacked firmly against their clients.
Of Love and Law is also very funny, especially for a film that deals with frequently grim subject matter. Kazu is an aspiring singer-songwriter (with, it must be said, slightly more talent at writing and piano-playing than singing). He decides to make a music video of a song that he wrote for Fumi. The music video is as goofily sentimental as the song, and as the camera follows its production it feels like the film is getting distracted. But then Kazu shows Fumi the music video in their home, and it’s such an authentic, sweet moment that I found myself crying (not for the last time).
Given that so much of the film is about the suppression of free speech and human rights, it’s not surprising that so many of the characters have eloquent and powerful things to say about their situations. A woman whose child was without a family register for one year muses, “He could have died, and then what? Would anyone have even known that he existed?” Fumi admits that he doesn’t “trust society” and wonders why he bothers with the work he does, given that nothing seems to change. Kazuma, the remarkably well-adjusted young man who temporarily lives with Fumi and Kazu, has a moment near the end of the film where he explains how he feels about his quasi-parents and their relationship. It’s so beautiful in its honesty and simplicity that I wish it could be included in Japanese school textbooks.
The victories experienced in the film may seem small, but they’re hard-won, and they’re powerful when they happen. Not every one of Fumi and Kazu’s cases ends in success, but the two men are undaunted, even though they can’t help feeling dejected at times (especially Fumi, who has a long, heartbreaking scene in which he laments that he can’t do enough and that he feels like a burden to Kazu). They’re not naive, but they continue to have hope that things will get better. Watching Of Love and Law, you can’t help but be hopeful along with them.