Sensei, Would You Sit Beside Me? (2021)

Directed by Takahiro Horie

Sawako works as a manga writer. Her husband of five years, Toshio is also a manga writer. On a summer day, Sawako begins to write her new manga. The story for her new manga deals with adultery. The manga describes Toshio having an affair with her editor and Sawako having an affair with her driving instructor. Toshio reads Sawako's manga with fear and jealousy.

As other reviewers have mentioned, a director claiming his film is "genreless" is probably not a good sign: when they are employed effectively, the conventions of genre allow films to become accessible and elevate themselves into cultural artefacts. Films can rely on certain generic conventions to communicate with audiences, and they can stubbornly refuse to adopt them as well... but they should probably know exactly what they are doing.

Unfortunately, that is not quite the case here, and the result is a sometimes-charming hodge-podge of potentially interesting ideas that haven't come together as well as the Sawako family's taro stew. The comedy is mostly one note, for example, and whilst that note of "gormless husband getting caught" was diverting the first couple of times, it wore quite thin after the fifth.

The film seemed to warm up when the possibility of meta-narrative elements was teased — as in, Sawako's manga has the potential to control reality, or at least memories of 'reality'. Indeed, there is a long history of art blending with reality in Western narratives — think of Jacque Rivette's La Belle Noiseuse or Oscar Wilde's The Portrait of the Lady of Fire, etc., let alone contemporary films featuring a lot of metanarrative elements (e.g. The Eternal Daughter). However, it turns into just another missed opportunity to do something interesting, or, dare I say it, to make this a bit more "genreless". (It was also interesting to me that, despite Sawako getting revenge in the end, the film still seems centred around Toshio's plight.)

[Watched as part of the Cambridge Japan Film Fest 2023, itself part of the Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme 2023]