Dzenana Vucic | 26/03/2018
It is rare to find a film about a transgender woman that is as gentle or as sweet as Naoko Ogigami’s celebration of familial diversity, Close Knit.
The movie follows Tomo (Rinka Kakihara), abandoned by her freewheeling alcoholic mother, as she finds a home in the care of her uncle, Makio (Kenta Kiritani), and his girlfriend, Rinko (Toma Kiuta). At first Tomo is uncertain and for a moment it seems like this will be the great conflict of the movie. Fortunately the script is too sophisticated for that and Tomo quickly grows to love Rinko’s soft maternity, her kindness and her cooking. As the film progresses and the little family faces its challenges, knitting becomes a more and more important motif, a way for the family to bond, to express their anger and frustration, and an important step in Rinko’s gender affirmation.
Ogigami explores sexual and gender diversity with openness and sincerity, leaning on Tomo’s young age (she’s eleven) to set the tone for the audience; Tomo sees the process as new and interesting, asking questions and approaching the business of genitalia with childish glee, without falling into more adult prejudices. Rinko herself is given the utmost respect in plot and characterisation, though of course it would have been more suitable to have her role played by a transgender actor. Even so, Kiuta plays her with subtlety and grace. Indeed, this is perhaps one of the film’s few failings – Rinko is so good, so pure, so kind, she becomes unreal. This is especially stark in contrast to the three cis women in the film, two of whom are one-dimensionally bad mothers (though in two very different ways). The third cis woman, Rinko’s mother, is a strange and somewhat uncomfortable character and the film would have been a tighter production without her unsettling conversation.
Dimensionless characters, Kozo Sibasaki’s cinematography is gorgeous – delicate, practical, airy. Scenes spent talking in the library at school, riding under cherry blossoms, waiting at bus stops or picnicking on the grass beside a footpath are elegantly simple and reminded me vividly of my own time on exchange in Japan. Naoko Eto’s score is so sweet it borders on saccharine, but it somehow seems to work against Sibasaki’s natural lighting and focus on textures.
Close Knit is a warm, softly-lit and comfortable movie, neither didactic or heavy-handed in the delivery of its message of inclusivity and love. At around 2hours and 10minutes, the film does get a bit flabby in places but the simple beauty of the story and the cinematography, and the lovingness with which it is put together more than make up for a few unnecessary scenes.