“THE REAL THING”
The Wrong Relationships
“The Real Thing,” is a 232-minute Japanese drama about an idealistic and self-destructive young man who obsesses over all the wrong relationships. Tsuji’a (Win Morisaki) love for the mysterious and disastrously messy Ukiyo (Kaho Tsuchimura) is a problem he deals with because since it affects his other romances with co-worker Minako (Akari Fukunaga) and Ms. Hosokawa (Kei Ishibashi).
Tsuji is sometimes warned and also sometimes thinks about what will happen if he continues to pursue Ukiyo, a timid, unstable woman who is often in debt, homeless, and suicidal. His story is a moral tale. Ukiyo is more of a human-shaped bad luck charm than she is a person whose charm forces men to help her. Her long-suffering husband confirms the low opinions of her.
Tsuji cleans up after Ukiyo and yearns for a relationship with her that she’s either not ready or capable of. Tsuji and his lovers hold onto each other despite themselves, because of the way the world is. Financial insecurity rules everything around Tsuji, even the way he and many others talk about love and characters go through the results of bad decisions, abandoning and supporting each other. They accuse each other of being obviously cruel and manipulative.
Tsuji’s sometimes shown to be the same kind of stubborn at work and at home. He goes out of his way to test and report on his company’s products and starts a group project to pick up the slack for an unproductive colleague.
Tsuji’s actions are generally treated like circumstantial evidence with which we must judge him. Is he acting out of self-interest, or can he genuinely not help himself? Is he in love with Ukiyo, or just the idea of saving her? Is any of this meaningful?
At first, Tsuji is relatively comfortable with his salaryman job and his no-commitments relationship with his co-worker Naoko. Then one night in a convenience store, he meets Ukiyo who is consumed with chaos. Shortly after, he saves her life when her rental car stalls in a train crossing. This becomes a pattern as he saves her from many crises, some minor others very significant and involving her lack of money.
We have sympathy for poor, wild Ukiyo whose character seems rather inscrutable and exhausting but she manages to get us to feel for her. This is a long film but it is nice to really get to know characters.
Director Kôji Fukada uses structural quirks to drive the audience to question details that most filmmakers would take as a given. “The Real Thing” is bifurcated, as Tsuji and Ukiyo switch roles. She eventually endures the torment of losing control, as Fukada understands the constant chaos of her early misadventures to be a form of manipulation every bit as evil as Tsuji’s relaxed Tsuji becomes both a mysterious object of pursuit and as the characters grow more life-like, the repetitions of earlier passages become emotinally moving.