Rikya Imaizumi’s romantic ensemble Their Distance is a melodrama that starts off deceitfully as a single character driven movie and gradually expands to reveal multiple characters, dancing around situations mostly revolving around love intrigues, chance meetings, crossing paths and a fundamental lack of honesty as well as an inability to connect with each other that dictates the development of their life events. Its opening set-up derives from one such meeting.
Leon, a young boot-maker, meets a girl waking up on a park bench after a night’s drinking binge. He instantly falls in love with her. The story then, somewhat unexpectedly, shifts its attention to a reveal her backstory; an unwarranted quasi-break-up with her boyfriend following a revelation of his serious crush on his teacher. With confident fluidity, the film even includes the teacher in its neatly woven narrative, who is having domestic troubles of her own, confused by her wheelchair-bound husband’s passive provocations (this narrative centrefold possibly being the most candid and interesting of all).
More twists and turns succeed as the film goes on – listing them would be a lengthy and unnecessary affair. It would also be unfair, given the fact that Imaizumi’s ability to prevent the film’s rich palette from being overwhelming is where the strength of Their Distance lies. There are two reasons for the film succeeding in this regard. One of them is that despite its occasional excesses and reliance in exposition, its approach is quiet and subtle. This approach is supported by its visuals, with the camera’s meticulously composed shots maintaining a certain interactive distance between the viewer and its characters, which works wonders for its deepest conversation pieces.
Furthermore, Their Distance‘s most melodramatic, cheesy moments meet their match in more ambiguous and even sinister ones. For instance, Leon’s shyness forgives his stalkerish obsession with his park-bench girl but remain, fundamentally, creepy. For all its depth and best intentions, it is disappointing to note that the balance turns to slightness.
As the film progresses, it is overtaken by a damaging lightness of tone boarderlining fickleness. It’s also hard not to note that the twenty-somethings populating the film look too much like cartoonish pop-stars. A little research reveals that the three leading young male characters actually are in a K-pop boyband named Nu’Est. One of them, Ren, is perennially dressed in white clothes and his bleached blonde heart-throb hair completely contrasts with his psychological self-flagellation, due to an accident the details of which are revealed later in the film. The strangeness of this contrast reveals how harmful such things can be to a film’s credibility and how ultimately frustrating it is that the director, in this film, takes the usually easier things for granted.