Of Love and Law Review

Japan is a country of contradictions. Despite being the third largest country in the world and it’s progressive stance regarding technology and the free-market, Japan’s history of human rights and equality falls incredibly short. In 2014, the World Economic forum ranked it 114th out 145th on gender equality, and in recent years there has been a significant shift towards right wing, conservative politics. Even today, there are no laws to protect minorities on the grounds of race, ethnicity or sexuality.

In this climate, it is quite remarkable that the subjects of Hikaru Toda’s documentary Of Love and Law are able to go about their daily lives, much of which includes fighting the archaic and oppressive legal system in Japan. Fumi and Kazu are lawyers, living and working in Osaka, taking on cases that challenge the hegemonic practices, expectations and societal stigmas. They also happen to be in a relationship with each other. Though their work may be political, Of Love and Law is also very personal.

Toda’s film utilises three cases that Fumi and Kazu are working on to explore issues faced by those who do not fit into the boxes prescribed for them by society. From a vagina artists whose art has been condemned as obscene by the government and is facing potential prison time, to a school teacher who refused to stand for the national anthem and has been fired, to several clients who are designated unregistered due to their birth status - Of Love and Law presents a myriad of outcasts whose only hope rests on Fumi and Kazu’s shoulders.

Learning about the legal system and the injustices face is heartbreaking, but on its own would not make a particularly engaging film. Toda’s hook here is the relationship between Fumi and Kazu, and their exploration of their own journeys to feel at one with their country, their families and society. They are incredibly strong characters and easy to identify with - despite all the hardships each of has faced, they are often seen laughing, playing, bickering and having normal lives. Their desire to have a real family together is palpable and is yet another reminder of the discriminations those like Fumi and Kazu face - Japan has not yet made adoption legal for gay couples.

Partway through the film, Fumi is made the legal guardian for one of his clients - a teenager named Kazuma who has no living family. The introduction of Kazuma to their lives and the film is a welcome one - it is clear the effect that Fumi and Kazu have on their clients, but Kazuma’s life is visibly changed by the love and support given to him by the two men. This makeshift family is so important to three of them and is almost a metaphor for the community that many outcasts in Japanese society feel that they are missing.

As the director, Toda's presence is almost invisible - instead of probing or questioning her subjects, she lets the action play out naturally. She often captures Fumi and Kazu at their most vulnerable (a sequence of Fumi driving home from work is a particularly poignant scene) as the camera feels part of the action, rather than an invasive presence. The subject matter and characters feel expertly handled and the level of trust between Toda and her characters is extraordinary.

Toda’s film shines a light on a nation in flux, a country that wants to thrust itself itself into the 21st century but is still held back by tradition, archaic laws and bureaucracy. Watching Fumi and Kazu’s struggle to help marginalised people (often at a financial cost to themselves, more than once they discuss not taking an upfront fee) speaks volumes about the larger state of play in Japan. Of Love and Law tackles very heavy and emotional subjects, but it does it with heart, humour and an abundance of honesty. It’s a phenomenal film that will, hopefully, change lives.

Find out more about Of Love & Law screenings and the VOD release by visiting the website.

Overall

A powerful, heartfelt documentary that sheds a much needed light on a newly fluctuating Japanese society

8

out of 10

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