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Review: I Am What I Am

I Am What I Am is the exact sort of pleasant surprise that defines Japan Cuts for me. The synopsis on the festival website led me to believe that it would be a somewhat overwrought melodrama; what I got instead was a delightfully unconventional, subversive romcom that omits the “romance” entirely.

The plot revolves around Kasumi Sobata, an asexual thirty-year-old struggling to navigate the pressures of a society that expects women her age to quit their jobs, get married, and have a bunch of kids. Unfortunately, her family practically epitomizes conformity and traditional gender roles. Her heavily pregnant sister, for example, dutifully ignores the warning signs that her husband might be unfaithful. Her grandmother, meanwhile—fresh off her third divorce—insists that a “proper” wife should accept infidelity as an inevitability. Worst of all, her mother—misconstruing her lack of a love life as evidence of depression—frequently sets her up on impromptu “dates” with “eligible bachelors,” hoping to force the issue of wedded bliss through manipulation, subterfuge, and sheer tenacity.

The conflict ventures far beyond the tropes typically associated with the genre. The primary “obstacle” isn’t the protagonist’s reluctance to abandon her own ambitions (though that is a secondary concern); her very identity is at stake. Whenever she admits that she is incapable of experiencing physical attraction, her feelings are immediately dismissed, invalidated, and trivialized. A male friend, for instance, assumes that she is merely making an excuse to “politely” reject his (abrupt, clumsy) flirtatious advances; he subsequently ends their platonic relationship.

The movie’s visual style is simple, yet elegant. Most scenes unfold from a single camera angle, with only minor adjustments to the frame: a pan here, a lateral dolly move there, the occasional slow push-in. This minimalism prioritizes behavior rather than action, allowing the performances (as opposed to the editing) to guide the rhythm of the narrative—and the actors absolutely deliver in that regard! Toko Miura is particularly compelling as our hapless heroine; whereas the character that she portrayed in Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s Drive My Car was cold, aloof, and taciturn, Kasumi is sensitive, affable, and effortlessly funny—an impressive display of versatility.

Ultimately, I Am What I Am is a triumph of representation. It explicitly assures ace viewers that they are neither defective nor alone, encouraging them to express themselves freely and unapologetically—after all, no human being (queer or otherwise) should have to justify their existence; everybody deserves basic respect and dignity. The message is unsubtle by design—and that thematic transparency significantly deepens the film’s emotional resonance.

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