Sode Yukiko has no qualms with announcing her Aristocrats as a literary project, unveiling its status as an adaptation of the novel Ano Ko wa Kizoku by Mariko Yamauchi before any credits, and even the title card. Its novelistic sweep is modest, but still manages to follow different divergences, whether in the form of flashback or in its endless supply of secondary characters. Opening with a reliable contrast between romantic malaise and holiday cheer — Hanako (Mugi Kadowaki) must confess to her family that she’s split with her fiancé when his absence at their New Year’s dinner is remarked upon — Sode probes the mannered methods in which personal desires are flouted by family as means of preserving an external decorum. Hanako must quietly weather pleas for a speedy arranged marriage at the behest of her parents, while still being chided by her otherwise more progressive siblings for holding out for what she calls “a normal guy.” The prosaic conversation is buoyed by cinematographer Yasayuki Sasaki’s precise framing, offering numerous instances of physical distance between Hanako and those around her.
The rush to find a suitable partner cycles through a handful of disastrous blind dates and meetups with prospective husbands, but mapping the contemporary playing field isn’t Aristocrats’ sole ambition. Hanako’s too-good-to-be-true, brisk slide into engagement with the well-off Koichiro (Kengo Kora) meets its inevitable compromising element in Miki (Kiko Mizuhara), a former amorous classmate of the latter. Miki is no antagonist, but another facet of Sode’s surveying of class in contemporary Tokyo. The relationship between the two ex-students is chronicled through a flashback that also outlines the economic straits of Miki’s own family, forcing her to drop out of college and become a hostess in the city. An ostensible love-triangle is established, but Sode drifts from matters of the heart to focus on the platonic relationships that the two women develop with one another, also absorbing their respective friends into this portrait of tryingly resounding sympathy.
Too often, though, does Sode strand her characters amidst the didactic — at one point, at lunch with friends from school, Miki’s friend leans over to whisper, “they’re aristocrats,” in regards to their dining partners who are unfazed by the menu prices. Conversations mostly circle topics of upbringing, “the sticks” (as referred to by Miki), and the ways in which romantic possibility in Tokyo is now “compartmentalized” (according to a friend of Hanako’s). This, paired with a relative shapelessness — shifts in perspective that aren’t necessarily jarring, but unceremonious nonetheless — makes Aristocrats an unfortunately toothless endeavor. Required forays into the acerbic, which the material demands, are relegated to the occasionally witty subheading of a chapter card, such as “Chapter One: Tokyo (in particular, one class of people).” Sode herself appears to be perfectly content with Aristocrats’ noncommittal writing, which admittedly produces a fitfully lulling effect, although such an anodyne lilt isn’t what the film itself strives for.
Published as part of IFFR 2021 — Dispatch 2.