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First Look Review - THE REAL THING

the real thing review
A young man's orderly life is upended when he falls for a troubled woman.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Koji Fukada

Starring: Win Morisaki, Kaho Tsuchimura, Kei Ishibashi, Shugo Oshinari, Akari Fukunaga, Shohei Uno

the real thing poster

If there's a lesson to be learned from the recent work of Japanese filmmaker Koji Fukada, it's that no good deed goes unpunished. In his disturbing 2016 thriller Harmonium, a family suffers in ghastly fashion when they accept an ex-prisoner into their home. In his most recent film, A Girl Missing, a kindly woman's life is ruined when she is accused of being involved in the abduction of the younger sister of the teenager she helps study for a nursing exam. In the films of Fukada, orderly people end up in disarray through the actions of others. He seems to have taken Sartre's line "Hell is other people" to heart.

In his new sprawling epic, The Real Thing, we get yet another orderly protagonist whose life is upended by the actions of someone else. In this case, however, it's in a movie that might be labelled a romantic comedy, and far from the misanthropy you might expect, here Fukada seems to suggest that disruption is necessary for a complete life.

the real thing review

Tsuji (Win Morisaki) is something of a perfectionist who likes to keep the various elements of his life in separate, neat boxes. This has allowed him to carry on affairs with two female coworkers at his place of employment, the office of a toy and fireworks manufacturer. Both women – the older Ms Hosokawa (Kei Ishibashi)  and young airhead Minako (Akari Fukunaga) – are convinced that Tsuji will one day be their husband, but he has no such intentions.


One night, while bringing a damaged toy package to the attention of a disinterested store clerk, Tsuji gets talking to Ukiyo (Kaho Tsuchimura), a confused woman looking for directions. His attempt at flirting seems to go over her head, but later he finds her car stuck between the guard rails of a train track, with a locomotive bearing down. Tsuji manages to rescue Ukiyo, only for her to lie to the police and tell them Tsuji was driving the car. Tsuji storms off in a huff, but the next day he receives a phone call from a car rental company hoping to track down Ukiyo, who owes them for the use of the car. Tsuji tracks her down and finds himself inveigled in the topsy turvy world of Ukiyo, which involves violent Yakuza, an embittered ex-husband and a former lover with whom she once attempted a suicide pact.

the real thing review

The Real Thing has much in common with those '80s comedies like After Hours, Something Wild and Into the Night, where mild-mannered men find themselves dragged into an adventure by a charismatic woman. The difference her is that while those movies played out across a single day or night and moved at a rapid pace, the narrative of The Real Thing sprawls out over five years. The other key difference is that Ukiyo is as far from the femme fatale trope as you could find. Shy and taciturn, she spends much of the movie meekly apologising for the various scrapes she's gotten Tsuji involved in. Despite putting him through an emotional ringer, Tsuji becomes unable to live without Ukiyo, constantly returning to her, only to find himself facing some new unexpected obstacle from her chequered past.


With his latest film, Fukada seems to be critiquing the judgemental nature of Japanese society and its hypocritical attitude to female sexuality. Ukiyo has been branded a slut for having a child out of wedlock, but we later learn the dark truth behind the conception. In the street she's mauled and harassed by drunken men. At Tsuji's workplace, Minako is scolded by a superior for dying her hair pink – "We have a reputation to maintain." Tsuji has lived his life trying to maintain a reputation, but through Ukiyo he comes to learn that some things in life are worth a bit of scandal.

the real thing review

Originally made as a TV series and then edited down to almost four hours, The Real Thing presents a challenge to impatient viewers, who may wish to break it up into a couple of more manageable chunks. Its over-reliance on dialogue betrays its small screen origins, but in a way this only serves to underline the point Fukada is making about idle gossip and hearsay. We hear many things about Ukiyo from various people who have been damaged by her, or have themselves damaged her, and we're never entirely sure which version of the truth to believe. Similarly, the extended runtime, while occasionally dragging in parts, serves to enhance the feeling that we've been on an exhausting journey with Tsuji and Ukiyo. Moments of humour – including a hilarious bit of business with a water pistol – go a long way to lightening the load.

A curious mish mash of film noir and sentimental drama, like Blue Velvet remade by Hirokazu Kore-eda, The Real Thing is a tonal change of pace from Fukada, albeit one filled with the many twists and turns you expect from his storytelling. If you're willing to have four hours of your life upended by the enigmatic Ukiyo, it's a largely satisfying examination of the necessary toll romance can take on our lives.

The Real Thing is on US VOD from June 4th. A UK/ROI release has yet to be announced.



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