Me & My Brother’s Mistress (Orokamono)

Japan (2019) Dirs. Takashi Haga & Sho Suzuki

When someone has an extra-marital affair who is to blame? It seems obvious some is apportioned, but it is mostly aimed at the “other woman” whilst the equally culpable cheating man sometimes gets off comparatively lightly. Is this fair?

Yoko (Nanami Kasamatsu), a high school girl living with her older brother Kenji (Satoshi Iwago) after their parent’s death, is upset to learn he has been seeing another woman despite being engaged to Kaho (Hachi Nekome). Using a camera borrowed from her best friend, Chinese exchange student Xiaomei (Bi Yo), Yoko takes pictures of the mystery woman and after discussing it with Xiaomei, she decides to meet the woman.

She follows the woman to a restaurant and introduces herself, learning her name is Misa (Yuri Murata), she is in love with Kenji and knows about Kaho. Yoko surprises herself by sympathising with Misa and invites her to their home, and after seeing how hurt she is at Kenji being so settled with Kaho, Yoko has an unusual proposition for Misa – they form an alliance to stop the wedding from happening.

The crux of this curious low-fi debut from Takashi Haga & Sho Suzuki is the natural reaction of people always blaming the other woman in an affair and not the philandering husband/boyfriend. Realistically and morally, both are to blame when the “other woman” is aware of their lover’s marital status, which is why this film chooses to look at a grey area rarely acknowledged.

Don’t take this as excusing infidelity, Yoko is very clear she hates the idea and holds it against her brother, but the story subtly reveals – or implies – that the central players in this game, namely Misa, have deeper rooted issues. Not to mention the conceit of the male playboy having his cake and eating it without being concerned about recrimination, a by-product of a lopsided patriarchal society.

Opening with a bold close up shot of Yoko’s grimacing face mere seconds before lifting a camera to her eyes, Me & My Brother’s Mistress wastes no time in getting into the story, in part due to the 95-minute run time. Yoko, in her school uniform, clearly looks too young to the aggrieved party so maybe she is a voyeur? The following scene of Yoko at home questioning Kenji about his impending wedding makes the set up a little clearer.

At first, we don’t know if Yoko is bothered by Kenji’s deceit because he is her brother or because she feels for Kaho, but there is an apparent frostiness on that front too. Again, we are left to infer if Yoko has a sibling complex and wants to keep Kenji for herself thus resents Kaho for taking him away, but since they share the same tiny flat, it must be something else.

Conferring with Xiaomei at school, Yoko is intent on facing Misa down but stops short of the violence Xiaomei is giddy for. When they do meet, Misa calmly asks why Yoko didn’t throw a drink in her face and call her a home wrecker, something which Yoko isn’t sure she can answer. Misa seems resigned to being confronted, later revealing to Yoko all of her relationships have been with unavailable men; yet she doesn’t come across as a vindictive woman out to steal men from their partners.

It seems Yoko can see this melancholy in Misa, and through their subsequent chats, we are painted a picture of a woman who maybe just wants to be loved but has a habit of looking for it on the branches of forbidden trees. By this point, Yoko has decided that Misa is only 5% to blame for the affair and Kenji is the real rat here, but he is also her brother. Therefore, stopping the marriage isn’t just punishing him, it is also saving Kaho.

Remarkably, Misa and Yoko make for a fun couple, entering into some pseudo-comic scrapes – at one point Misa pretends to be Kaho at a teacher-parent meeting – though the pairing of Yoko and Xiaomei is also enjoyable. The twist that Misa assumes the role that we would expect Xiaomei to play in wrecking the relationship plays a huge part in the psychological character study of the “other woman” this film offers.

But what of Kaho? If Kenji loves her why hook up with Misa? Unsurprisingly, Kaho is a little dumpy but well meaning and domestic minded whereas Misa is vivacious and sexy but can’t cook. Kaho says she knows what Kenji really wants and that is stability, but it would appear he is a serial player; even his work colleague knows about it but Kenji shrugs it off. Yes, he is the real villain here and deserves some comeuppance, yet love is a funny thing.

Moral high grounds are not reached for in this tale, not in the least because there isn’t a person worthy of taking one – maybe Kaho. As much as this is about questioning double standards surrounding infidelity, there is a coming of age story quietly bubbling beneath the emotional tumult leading to an unexpected conclusion. All everyone wants is to be a better person, it is finding the right one to make that happen.

Nanami Kasamatsu makes a cracking debut as Yoko, much like her character taking on the mantle of the glue keeping everything together. She gels with all of her co-stars with ease and has already captured the art of nuance. Yuri Murata is mostly known for low budget gore-fest so this is her coming out party in bringing fragility to Misa. Bi-Yo needs her own starring role soon, and Hachi Nekome is the film’s totem as Kaho.

Had the script given us a little more in revealing the character’s motives, there would be a deeper connection made with Me & My Brother’s Mistress. Yet, it dares to be different and has plenty to like and be enchanted by despite its lurid premise. A potential grower, I believe.

Currently streaming as part of the The Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme Online Festival Feb 19th – Mar 8th

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