A Piece of Our Life is a story about two very different young women who end up spending time together. It's not a lesbian love story. There are no make-out scenes or naked bodies entwined in soft focus. No politics. The two protagonists just happen to be women. That's a healthy notion and could have made for a much better movie if one of the women didn't actually discourse about it. "It's not about if you're a man or a woman. You should have someone who you think feels good" might sound like words of wisdom but to me they sound like words from a director who is afraid her audience won't get it unless she spells it out.
There are many subtle and wonderful details in A Piece of Our Life, such as when Riko (Eriko Nakamura), the aggressive and confident one, asks Haru (Hikari Mitsushima) if she liked their "kiss for friendship" and Haru says "No" and the scene cuts away. Haru's response isn't one of objection or disgust. It's simple and honest, even if born a bit from surprise. There are also a few details which are just plain wrong, such as why does the quiet woman, who's probably never imagined dating another woman before, have to start out being in a relationship with an asshole, a guy with terrible table manners who uses her only for sex while he openly has another girlfriend on the side? That seems like a cheap and lazy juxtaposition against Riko's declaration that she likes women because "they're soft and cuddly, and they smell nice". It snuggles up to close to the tired idea that women only choose other women after they've become thoroughly disgusted by disgusting men.
I also think Riko's character was a lot smarter than the way she acts every time the couple interacts with a third party: when Haru's (ex)boyfriend comes over; when a man approaches Haru in the nightclub; when Riko shows up at Haru's university party. Riko acts childish and jealous. This seems at odds with the maturity Riko shows when dealing with her other girlfriend: "I can't fulfill the hollow you have in your heart".
There are a lot of things to like about this film. It's got a simple, honest, and wonderful vision which it explores with some effectiveness, and the two lead performances are outstanding. But it could have been a really, really great film instead of a really good one if it would have practiced what it preaches and left out more of the stuff we've seen, heard, and grown tired of before.
Momoko Ando is a young director to keep an eye on. A Piece of Our Life is one of the best and brightest films I've seen recently. My criticisms are born of a frustration that the director came just short of making an other-worldly masterpiece by adding in elements she just wanted to make a point of rather than letting the world of the film dictate the boundaries.
Just shy of five:
Starring: Hikari Mitsushima, Eriko Nakamura, Ken Mitsuishi, Tasuku Nagaoka, Rino Katase