Takuro Nakamura’s West North West—the direction to Mecca from Tokyo—details a sort-of-kind-of love triangle between three women: Iranian exchange student Naima (Sahel Rosa), bartender Kei (Hanae Kan), and Kei’s pathologically jealous model girlfriend, Ai (Yuka Yamauchi). West North West is well acted and often affecting, despite an unfortunate reliance on obvious, overdetermined metaphors (a caged bird, a malfunctioning compass). Nakamura takes on lots of themes (homophobia, xenophobia, cultural differences, aimless youth) and balances them with a remarkable intimacy.
When Kei at one point denies being a lesbian, saying she just keeps falling in love with women, it comes across less as Kei deluding herself than as an acknowledgement that sexuality is often fluid and ill-served by constricting labels. This makes the central relationship between Naima and Kei the film’s most fruitfully fascinating one, its ambiguous nature making it all the more palpable. That’s the strong emotional core here, and the most impressive aspect of a film that’s sometimes too enamored with its own self-consciously arty moodiness.
Published as part of Japan Cuts 2017.