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Bye Bye Love — Queer East Film Festival 2024

Reviewer: Flynn Hallman

Writer: Fujisawa Isao

Director: Fujisawa Isao

The Queer East Film Festival 2024 was rounded off with a 50th anniversary screening of Fujisawa Isao’s Bye Bye Love (Baibai Rabu (1974)) at the BFI Southbank. The film, which was rediscovered in 2018, plots the ill-fated odyssey of Utamaro (Ren Tamura) and Giiko (Miyabi Ichijô), two figures on the run along the east coast of Honshu following the murder of a US embassy official nicknamed ‘Nixon’.

The film’s title is a nod to the end of the free love movement of the 1960s. 1974 saw major political scandal committed by both Nixon and Tanaka either side of the pacific divide. Beyond the on-the-nose nicknaming of the American official, Isao’s colour palette picks up on this atmosphere of counter culture and anti-Americanism, paralleling it with the social misgivings of his protagonists. The pointed red, white and blue frames of the film’s early scenes gradually metastasise into a vermilion monochrome as the pair embark on their outlawed life. Some strong shot selections, especially towards the denouement, counterpoise moments of action with cut scenes rich in symbolism. The result is a film whose strength lies in the multiple angles from which it may be approached, especially from the emotional perspective of its central characters.

Isao’s adoption of the outlaw love-affair archetype in a queer context was completely without precedent for Japan of the mid 70s. It has little of the glamourised criminality of a straightforward Bonnie and Clyde narrative, but it also lacks in the anarchic ebullience of films like Thelma and Louise (1991).

When the protagonists meet, Utamaro feigns shooting himself. He lies motionless beside a motorway, his eyes closed. “You’re a weirdo, aren’t you,” Giiko says, “what’s going to happen to you?” He replies, “whatever it is, it already happened a long time ago.”

Utamaro’s character is shrouded in disillusionment. He directs his malcontentedness towards America and its influence on Japan’s hyper-industrialised society. Yet there is an inborn hypocrisy to his cynicism. He is a product of the same zeitgeist he makes a personality of denying. This is epitomised when he first learns of Giiko’s gender fluidity. “So you’re artificial?” he asks, “this whole city is artificial. The streetlights, the asphalt, the buildings,” Giiko responds. Here Utamaro’s fecklessness reaches incommensurable levels, glibly declaiming “you’re actually a man… what a drag.”

Even for a low-budget indie feature film recently rescued from the umbra of obscurity, this pun is unforgivably bad. One hopes it is a liberty taken in translation. Another of the more painstaking points along the rickety line of the film’s production quality is the score, which exhibits a borderline puritanical recourse to high-gothic organ music.

In all, the shoddiness is worth persevering through for the genuinely thought-provoking substance of Bye Bye Love’s subject matter. Giiko is the most compelling component of the film. There is a quiet elegance to the delivery of the role. Though they speak little, one senses they have the most to say. Yet, it is this quality which, by the end of the film, leads the genuine pathos of their position to endure most in your mind.

Queer East Festival 2024 takes place 17 – 28 April across venues in London.

The Reviews Hub Score:

Quiet elegance

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The Reviews Hub - Film

The Reviews Hub Film Team is under the editorship of Maryam Philpott.

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