Asian cinema: Japanese films
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Gaku Hamada and Asami Mizukawa play husband and wife in A Beloved Wife (category IIA; Japanese), directed by Shin Adachi.

ReviewA Beloved Wife movie review: Japanese comedy finds insight and humour in an unhappy marriage

  • Gaku Hamada plays a struggling screenwriter and deadbeat husband and Asami Mizukawa his relentlessly nagging wife in Shin Adachi’s autobiographical film
  • Mizukawa is brilliant, and the writer-director’s razor-sharp insight, vulnerability and humour save what could easily have become an agonising drama

3.5/5 stars

The workings of an unhappy marriage are humorously explored in writer-director Shin Adachi’s movie A Beloved Wife, adapted from his autobiography.

Gaku Hamada plays deadbeat husband Gota, a once-celebrated screenwriter who is now struggling to put food on the table, while Asami Mizukawa is quite wonderful as his relentlessly nagging wife, Chika, whose patience is fast evaporating with each missed opportunity. It is no mean feat to craft an engaging film with a pair of such unlikeable characters, but Adachi somehow succeeds in finding the sweet spot.

Things have got so bad between Gota and Chika that their sex life has all but evaporated. Any creativity the young writer can muster is applied, not to his latest screenplay, but a series of fruitless efforts to sleep with his wife.

For Chika, any respect or attraction she once harboured for her husband has long since dried up. All she worries about now is ensuring there is sufficient money in the bank to provide for their daughter, Aki (Chise Niitsu, daughter of animation auteur Makoto Shinkai). The only way things heat up between them is through the endless abusive tirades Chika rains down upon her husband.

A last-ditch effort to save their marriage emerges when Gota is sent to Kagawa to research a new script. Short on funds and unable to drive, he convinces Chika to accompany him, with Aki enthusiastically in tow, praying that a rare family holiday might postpone their otherwise inevitable divorce. Needless to say, things go less than smoothly, not helped by Chika’s incessant drinking, which only fuels her simmering vitriol.

Asami Mizukawa (front) and Gaku Hamada in a still from A Beloved Wife.

What could easily have been an agonising drama about the collapse of a loveless marriage is saved by the razor-sharp insight, vulnerability and humour of Adachi, best known for scripting 2014’s 100 Yen Love . The minuscule infractions and irritations that escalate into full-blown arguments are so brilliantly observed they can only have sprung from personal experience, and are sure to resonate with anyone who has survived a long-term relationship.

Hamada’s dishevelled, unassuming and perpetually misguided character is a hapless loser for whom nothing ever goes right, yet who somehow retains our sympathies by the barest of threads. Similarly, Mizukawa is vicious, unwavering, and vindictive in her abuse, yet somehow she too stops short of becoming the film’s outright villain.

Sparing his audience a trite quick fix or pat happy ending, Adachi manages to end his film on a note of timid optimism, acknowledging that happiness, in all walks of life, comes only with persistence and hard work.

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This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: comical take on the trials of a loveless marriage