Far more than just a Sex and the City clone…
Girls For Keeps is a Japanese film released in 2012 by Director Yoshihiro Fukagawa, a film that drew many Sex and the City comparisons which had it’s European Premiere at the Udine Far East Film Festival 15.
It opens with a fast paced intro full of colour and exposition, a voiceover from main protagonist Yukiko (Karina) expressing her beliefs in life and troubles in love. This sets the stage for the majority of the film, focused around 4 female friends in their 30’s, aside from Yukiko, and each is stereotypically typecast with their own individual asset; be that a hardworking single parent, a strong wife who is also the breadwinner in the marriage and new boss at the office, an older woman desperately searching for a younger lover, and the fashionista who can’t let go of her youth and childish nature.
The characters are at first easily presented as shallow and materialistic, equally narrow minded in the way they work and relate to others in their actions and being unable or unwilling to change. This one sided impression (and the first deviation from its parallel Sex and the City) then disappears as we are presented situations which show the women struggling in their own environments, allowing us to create more of a relationship with them and empathize with their reactions. Seiko (Kumiko Aso) is struggling to work with men in her office due to gender quality, despite being of higher rank and having better prospects. A reflection of her character shown in the meeker secretary gives a glimpse of what she may have previously been like before promotion, Seiko recognizing a kinship with her and allowing her the chance to flourish through heading up a business deal.
Yukiko, as a protagonist, grows throughout her experiences in the film, facing hardships with her campaign designs not being taken seriously by senior members of staff, whilst her actions are constantly put down by another woman who looks down upon the way she dresses and acts like a teenager despite being almost 30. Her boyfriend also frustrates her with a lack of vision and help in the relationship, preferring to read his manga comics and offering her a proposal off the cuff, whilst constantly taking her to the same café for dates.
A shock for the characters is delivered in the form of an invite to a school reunion, the girls relating to and being jealous of their past classmates for now being settled down with children, whilst the classmates envy them in return for their freedom. A steady realization grows that the love and relationships they crave also comes with tying them down and a loss of individuality and self, the girls being forced to either choose or find a balance inbetween.
The film plays on the real world problems of the hardships and persecution of single parents, and twists the difficulties of romance and balancing relationships, a difficulty shown with Yoko (Michiko Kichise) competing against younger girls in the office for a younger man. There are definitely similarities between Girls for Keeps and Sex and the City, however a greater grounding in reality and a focus in individual personalities allows the characters to grow and experience their own freedom.
The film is openly outspoken and campaigning for females in the modern age, with flowery semblances of dreams alongside the reality of life and the occasional powerful action of a character demonstrating a strength in character, becoming more of a campaign slogan for females than a film in itself.
The women only rarely meet up, and the film is more about their own individual stories than them collectively as a group, which is better as the overall message and lasting effect wouldn’t have been as powerful if they were shown to be united whilst struggling with their own issues. The stories of Yoko and Takako have less screentime, but their stories of dating a younger male in the office and a struggling parent are equally as important, but with 4 central protagonists the film is bound to give someone the short thrift, no matter how much they are focused on.
As the narrative progresses, it becomes less of a Sex and the City clone and has more of an individuality sense in it’s own right. The women seeking stability and equality instead of just sex and small bursts of relationships. At times the dialogue and actions can become a bit too overbearing and sweet to stomach, a chick flick evidently aimed at making money from exploiting the stereotypes of chick flicks. Yet the issues the film deals with are very real, and it has real heart in the aspects that it shows and relates to, allowing the audience a lot of leeway in becoming involved and enjoying themselves. As that’s what the film is really about, the girls finding that aspect of stability whilst enjoying themselves, not an overtly complicated film but an easily amusing jaunt with powerful messages.