BL Metamorphosis (2022)

Directed by Shunsuke Kariyama

Ichinoi, a 75-year-old woman living a peaceful life, unwittingly buys a Boy's Love manga one day…and is fascinated by what she finds inside. When she returns to the bookstore to buy the next volume, the high school girl working there–Urara, a seasoned BL fan–notices a budding fangirl when she sees one. When Urara offers to help Ichinoi explore this whole new world of fiction, the two dive into BL fandom together, and form an unlikely friendship along the way.

This perky, progressive comedy is carried almost entirely by the charm of Nobuko Miyamoto's endearing portrayal of the widow Yuki, who circumvents all of the cringe I (alas) expected from reading the film's synopsis.

For those who don't know, however, BL ('Boys Love') is a genre of manga that focuses on romantic and sexual relationships between male characters. It is extremely popular for all sorts of reasons, not least because it circumvents rigid patriarchal norms, but also in part due to the way it offers a way to quite literally fantasise that men are not actually a danger to women. No doubt this second point is one of the other reasons why men tend to find BL instinctively distasteful: although garden-variety homophobia is the obvious and primary reason for this, the very existence of BL carries with it the uncomfortable implication that women do very much have to be constantly wary of men's advances.

This film is far from perfect, though. Beyond being nagged about her future, it's never made clear why Urara is emotionally distant from her own mother to the point she seeks a surrogate mother figure in Yuki. Moreover, the subplot involving the manga author Yu Komeda didn't pay off at all, and could probably have been easily excised in an earlier draft. This would have made the film somewhat snappier as well.

Indeed, I had concerns about pacing, for the third act was as baggy as Urara's deliberately form-unflattering t-shirts… one of which had a "Re-elect Ronald Reagan" print on it for some deeply unfathomable reason. Reagan was hardly the best friend of the LGBT community (to put it mildly), so to mention him at all in this quietly progressive film was an utterly bizarre choice.

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