Amélie (Pauline Etienne) is a Belgian Japanophile (someone obsessed with all things Japanese) and aspiring writer who longs to be back in her country of birth—Japan. In her early twenties, she decides to leave Belgium and move to Tokyo to fulfill her dream of being Japanese.
Wide-eyed and curious, she explores the city and rests in her small apartment on her own—until she meets her Japanese dream boy, Rinri (Taichi Inoue). Rinri is the first student to respond to Amélie’s French tutor posting. It’s infatuation at first sight—Rinri has an obsession with all things French, and Amélie with all things Japanese. Their teacher-student relationship soon turns into something more, as Rinri shows Amélie what it really means to experience life in Tokyo.
With Hichame Alaouie’s dream-like cinematography, Tokyo Fiancée acts as the viewer’s portal to life in Japan. As Rinri takes Amélie to his favourite spot by the train track, to the strip club and to an art installation, it feels as though you’re right there with them. The film also delves into cultural practices in Japan as well. For example, Amélie learns that Rinri invites her to a dinner party with his friends just so she would be the main conversationalist—a role traditionally held by geishas, as she later explains. Amélie also learns—or rather, is told by her Parisian nemesis— that it’s more socially acceptable for Japanese women to be swept off their feet by Western men, not the opposite.
While the film is mostly in French, there are some scenes where the characters speak Japanese or English. In retrospect, mixing different languages in one conversation is exactly how it goes when learning a new language in real life. In an interview with Etienne and Leberski after the film’s screening at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema, Liberski said that Etienne didn’t have to actually learn Japanese, nor did Inoue have to learn French. However, despite not knowing exactly what every single word in the script meant, the two actors deliver a spectacular, heartfelt performance.
Based on Belgian writer Amélie Nothomb’s autobiographical European bestseller, Tokyo Fiancée retells an actual romance Nothomb had while living in Japan. In film, the story tugs at the heartstrings by portraying the harsh realities and also the wonders of young love, life and self-discovery.
Image credit: TIFF