Love and relationships combine with work, health, selfish and shellfish issues in this indie drama comedy.
Sawako has problems that, employment and relationships aside, require the obvious solutions of colonic irrigation and regular cans of beer. Her job as an office lady is frustrating and occasionally involves injury or infant urine, although it does (other sexist pigs aside) give her the opportunity to meet Boyfriend No 5, an ecologically inclined divorcee who comes complete with cute daughter Kayoko and a bizarre understanding of toy design and knitting. The three have to head out of Tokyo and back to Sawako’s countryside home when her father becomes ill. There she takes on the role of head of the family shellfish packaging business. But she left her hometown in a hurry five years ago and the local ladies who work for her are not impressed that not only has she has returned but is, in fact, the new boss. She has a variety of additional problems, ones that are accentuated by her relationships with her family, her old community and her new partner. Will this end in any form of relaxation or romance?
Sawako Decides gently mixes a variety of themes into its running time. Initially the film appears to be about the vague and apathetic Sawako (Hikari Mitsushima) coping with modern office lady life it the city, with its sexist bosses and bitchy female colleagues. Her relationship with her temporary boss, now potential spouse, is what places the story in the realms of normal modern rom-com but this is actually a catalyst for expanding the narrative and developing the character. Sawako herself is really rather hopeless, she has done nothing with her life and drowns her sorrows every evening by drinking vast quantities of beer. When she is compelled to take on a role within her family business that she doesn’t want, and deal with a group of employees who are clearly disgusted by her earlier behaviour, that she gets an opportunity to shine.
There are thematic connections to recent films such as Potiche or Made in Dagenham but those films somehow lacked the bizarre and amusing corporate songs, the childhood chore of emptying toilet wastes on the fields and the multi-faceted worker ethics which define Sawako’s former status in her hometown as both a ‘normal’ member of society and daughter of the local boss. Indeed the film really comes into its own when it addresses the myriad relationships between the characters as Sawako attempts to become a new mother for her boyfriend’s daughter even as she reconciles issues about her own parents, especially when she discovers that her father seemed to have more than a totally professional relationship with a number of his employees. Hikari Mitsushima is ideal as the central character, mixing her need for normality with her desire for some progress (as long as it requires minimal effort) and a sense of doomed inevitability.
A pleasing blend of comedy and relationship drama, writer and director Yuya Ishii has created a laid back and quirky mix of genuine humour with a light-hearted exploration of relationships and societies inside and out of the city.