I Am What I Am – Queer East Film Festival 2024

Reviewer: Adrian Ross

Director: Shinya Tamada

Here’s a worthwhile subject for a movie: the orientation of asexuality, which applies in the case of about 1% of the population. Call centre worker Kasumi (Toku Miura), aged thirty, does not experience sexual attraction – the basic definition of asexuality – and neither does she have any romantic feelings.

She feels perfectly content as she is, but after her sister gets married and becomes pregnant, pressure builds on her to do the same. Exasperated by her lack of progress towards securing a husband, her mother goes behind her back and arranges a matchmaking meeting at a dating agency. She lures her there by saying they’re going shopping, and then threatens to throw Kasumi out of the house if she refuses to take part. Thankfully, there’s a twist in this Japanese movie which dates from 2022 and is screening in the UK as part of the Queer East festival, which is showing fourteen features across seven venues, until 28 April.

As we spend time with this protagonist, who finds some solace sitting on the beach, we’re shown how unthinking and unrelenting the social pressure can be to conform to standard models of love. This is tough to watch in places.

It’s perhaps in her friends’ and colleagues’ small, subtle aggressions, more than the selfish antics of mother and grandmother, that the film is most affecting. A lack of awareness of asexuality is palpable, and clearly much of the raison d’être of the movie is an attempt to put that right. It also gives an engaging account of the joys and limitations of friendship. There’s a strong supporting cast around the lead that helps to bring out her story and make it convincing.

It’s fairly pedestrian stuff, but there are a few surprises along the way. For example, it considers how much more accepting of Kasumi her mother would be, if she were lesbian, rather than asexual. And look what happens when Kasumi quits the call centre to work in a kindergarten. Her reworking of the Cinderella story may get her into trouble, but ultimately offers hope for the future.

For information and advice about asexuality, search AVEN (The Asexuality Visibility & Education Network).

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

The Reviews Hub Score:

Engaging and empathetic

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