Relating its quietly remarkable story, Of Love & Law must rank among the most uplifting sad documentaries ever made. On display is an insight into the day to day lives of a married couple in Japan who are also partners in law. Incidentally, they happen to be gay.
Except, this minor detail is not incidental at all. Masafumi – Fumi – Yoshida and Kazayuki – Kazu – Minami‘s sexuality is of fundamental significance amid the restrictions of a society that demands homogeneity. Practically every human rights cause they fight for is met by the brick wall of legal restriction. Remarkably, through tears, outrage and even devastation, they smile, they laugh, they fight on. Love will out is the message.
Wed in 2011 and hoping to become the first gay couple in Japan to adopt a baby, Fumi and Kazu are delightful company. Even their ribbing squabbles are a quirky joy to behold. They’re also genuinely wonderful people, driven by the earnest desire to help others. ‘I don’t want to be Superman,’ says Kazu through tears, ‘I want to be useful.’ To that end, his life is as successful as is possible within such oppressive contexts. Minorities are, the film asserts, rejected in Japan. Indeed, Kazu’s own family came close to following suit when he told them he was gay, his mother telling Hikaru Toda’s intimate camera ‘I thought it was something like measles’. Though she smiles genially in relating the anecdote, it is a brutally telling shot that captures her silent sobs as she hears the memory lectured by her son to an engrossed audience.
The juxtaposition of the up and down beats of Fumi and Kazu’s lives do only to elevate their brazen humanity and tease out the suffering beneath their smiles. Only a relentless optimist could laugh through the line ‘our legal system is broken’. And yet, the speaker has a point. In loose and fluid chapters, the pro bono cases taken on by the duo’s practice in Osaka are laid on the table but none yield cleanly positive results. There is the battle of a teacher to sue the school that sacked her for remaining seated through a rendition of the national anthem; the struggle of a mother to see her son re-registered by the state after her divorce from his father; and – most prominently – the quest of manga artist Rokudenashiko, who has been indicted on obscenity charges for illustrating her own gentiles. Her story is, in part, related through the artist’s own anime. A nice touch and entirely appropriate with regard to her own fizzing personality. Our leading lawyers demonstrate no hesitation in noting the hypocrisy of her indictment, when crude sex toys for men can easily be sourced from local retailers.
Outwit their legal work, Toda finds Kazu teaching familial equality to a nonplussed class, while Fumi attempts to fathers the minor he rescued from homelessness when his care home was closed down. They’re saints, essentially. It’s all breathtakingly tender and captured with a deceptively passive eye. Even Toda meets obstacles in the film’s production. When shooting at a Japanese Pride festival, the director is repeatedly forced to interview subjects from the neck down. Few are prepared to have their faces committed to film when their being at such an event could lose them their jobs and futures. Suddenly, the bravery of Fumi and Kazu is laid clear: their fight for justice risks ostracism.
Quietly powerful and often devastating, Of Love & Law captures life at its most warmly humane. Toda navigates through the world of Fumi and Kazu with a gentle ease, aided by her subjects’ own will for inclusivity. Director and audience alike are entirely welcome.