NYAFF 2017: Close-Knit
Coming-of-age family dramas are not only a genre of its own, they're a fact of life. People grow up and learn at various times in life and that’s what makes for such compelling stories. Though more recently, the idea of “coming-of-age” and even “family” have taken on new shapes and meanings as our world and lives complicate. Of course, the United States takes center stage when tackling these new complexities, but often times it’s forgotten that places like conservative Japan are experiencing these growing pains as well. Naoko Ogigami’s latest film, Close-Knit (Karera ga Honki de Amu Toki wa) is a sweet and tender coming-of-age family drama that gently challenges those ideas for far more than our 11-year-old protagonist, Tomo.
The film opens with Tomo (Rin Kakihara) coming home after school to find that her mother has mysteriously taken off once again. She does this sometimes, and young Tomo is left to her own devices until she is taken in by her uncle Makio (played by Kenta Kiritani) and his girlfriend. Makio warns Tomo, though, that his girlfriend Rinko is “unusual” and until they meet, she doesn’t quite realize that what he means is that Rinko (Toma Ikuta) is a transwoman.
This small detail proves to be nothing more than a hiccup for Tomo. She only has a number of questions for Rinko about transition, adorably asked and answered throughout the film, and shared in the form of flashbacks featuring young, pre-transition Rinko and her mother.
Masterfully performed, shot, and scored, Close-Knit is one of the best films of 2017. Many movies you’ll see this year will deal with social topics such as transgender discrimination, but doubtfully as warm, intimate, or moving.
Through the billowy glow of the cinematography and Naoko Eto's breezy, emphatic score, there’s a sweet simplification that beams through when these complex issues are seen through an 11-year-old’s eyes. Close-Knit manages to strip disposition and examine only the issues these smart, caring characters face on-hand, and address almost nothing else. Toma Ikuta’s performance as Rinko is so deeply forgiving and emphatic that oftentimes she may seem defenseless to the vitriol that is spouted in front of and about her. Tomo experiences maternal love for what seems to be the first time, as her own predispositions and angst are stripped away, then knitted back together with Rinko’s soft guidance.
Angst and frustration play a much bigger role than the sweetness of this film suggests. Every character is dealing with rage in some form, and most all learn to cope through Rinko’s favorite pastime; knitting.
Hopefully, Close-Knit gets something resembling a proper release, having premiered initially at this year’s Berlin International Film Festival and now at the New York Asian Film Festival. Once it’s finished the festival circuit, this film needs to be seen by not only conservative Japan, but worldwide. Trans* people aren’t going anywhere, but the prejudices they face daily can. Close-Knit is not only an important film, it’s most of all a great one.