World Film: Tokyo Fiancée (French Film Festival)

Country: Belgium

Director: Stefan Liberski

Released: 2014

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By Fiona Hardie

Stefan Liberski’s colourful, sometimes-whimsical, sometimes-dark, romantic comedy drama Tokyo Fiancée highlights the age-old question of cultural differences, and how deep they run. Adapted from the autobiographical novel by Belgian author Amélie Nothomb, it certainly takes some liberties with the original text, but for particular reasons (at the French Film Festival screening at the GFT Liberski talked of his own personal interest in Japanese culture, and real-life events), and overall comes across as a charming and skilled piece of cinema.

Amélie (Pauline Étienne), at 20 years old, wants nothing more than to be Japanese. She lives and breathes Japanese culture and after being born in Japan and growing up in Belgium, she finally makes the trip back to begin her Japanese life. Advertising as a French tutor, she gradually begins a romance with her student, Rinri (Taichi Inoue), and they embark on a story of cultural discovery as their relationship develops. The central performances by Pauline Étienne and Taichi Inoue are warm, tender and believable, with awkward and sweet moments between the young lovers. Étienne is expertly emotive, adeptly carrying the film and working with the various different themes in the narrative.

When watching the film, ‘quirky’ is the first word that comes to mind, and it’s not hard to see why. From the delight that is the playful Amélie, embodying the fish-out-water-trope and completely defying it at the same time, to the blossoming of a young and unsure love and childlike bursts of imagination; the film has a particular charm to it, all accompanied by her own voiceover narration.

It’s more than just quirky, though. It’s a film of contrasts, and not just cultural clashes. Its style is deceptively childlike at times; the wardrobe of primary colours and musical-box-esque soundtrack motif that plays throughout occasionally distracting you from the fact that Amélie is a character on the precipice of adulthood, coming to the realisation that not all dreams are necessarily achievable in the way that you’d like – but she stubbornly grips onto it, determined to see it through. Overall it’s soft and lighthearted but always reminding you that it’s totally grounded in reality, with jolts of darkness and tension. Shots of Tokyo are seen both from the ground and from above; Japan is seen as both bustling city and rural isolated areas; the lovers are shown through various intimate moments but also wider shots – these continuous contrasts reflecting the constant idea of distance and nearness; difference and similarity.

Ultimately, Tokyo Fiancée is a stylish and captivating coming-of-age narrative, asking the question: can you really become part of another culture, so removed from your own, if you immerse yourself in it deeply enough?


*The French Film Festival runs at the Glasgow Film Theatre until 23rd November. For more information, visit, document.currentScript);