Written and directed by Hamish Downie, co-written by stars Tomoko Hayakawa and Qyoko Kudo, a lesbian couple in conservative Japan must fight to stay together when one of them is diagnosed with terminal cancer. Also starring: Sestacial Bec, Asuka Goto and Yukiko Ito.
This film traverses a lesser spoken issue but an important one, while there may not be outright laws against homosexuality in Japan, the gay community are not entitled to the same legal protections as straight couples. Matcha & Vanilla explores that in the case of healthcare and what happens if your partner passes away, it’s a very worthy topic but also a very difficult one. It’s made more tricky by mixing it with a romantic story, rather than diving into the harsher dramatic tones. The result is that the tone can’t hit the right note, it brings through the grim side of this journey but can’t make it balance with the love story. It also feels undermined by some heavy editing, the constant moving around makes it feel as if it’s multiple stories weaved together, rather than one cohesive tale.
Unfortunately, the progression of the story struggles with a similar problem. It’s moving slowly yet skipping ahead too fast, the opening montage isn’t enough to establish or sufficiently introduce these characters. There isn’t a lot of time spent getting to know them, so it’s hard to really pin down what sort of people they are outside the relationship. It’s sadly just playing things slightly too light to get to grips with the weight of its story. It doesn’t follow a clear, deepening path to embrace the serious and affecting nature of the issues at hand.
The sentimental, romantic edge also permeates the performances of its lead actresses, which is not altogether surprising given that they also co-wrote the film. Unfortunately, they fall onto the sappy side, there’s an over-sweetness which fights against the poignant intentions of the story. Tomoko Hayakawa and Qyoko Kudo have chemistry as a couple but without more background or a larger development of their characters, there isn’t enough to grab hold of. That over-sentimentality is also an issue with the choice of music, it restricts the amount of sincerity that can achieved.
Matcha & Vanilla presents an important topic and attempts to do so through a lens of love but unfortunately ends up undermining the serious nature of the story. It plays its hand too sentimental to bear the weight of the subject. It feels as though we’re jumping in slightly late and missing out on the bigger picture, with the progression rushing to its finale and not presenting a clear path or a more rounded perspective of its characters.