I happen to love films that reflect other cultures, other diversities. Matcha & Vanilla happens to be both and I really wanted to check it out. I was thrilled to get the opportunity to review the film because it sounded interesting and different from others that I’ve seen. And after watching it, I can honestly say it was bittersweet, yet loving and beautiful with amazing performances by both leads.
Written and directed by Hamish Downie with Tomoko Hayakawa and Qyoko Kudo writing the dialogue, Matcha & Vanilla focuses on a lesbian couple, Ai (Qyoko Kudo) and Yuki (Tomoko Hayakawa) in conservative Japan. When one of the pair is diagnosed with lung cancer, they must fight to stay together, struggling with finances and being able to keep their home. While there are battles, the pair does everything they can to be together.
As a story, while this film is bittersweet and heartbreaking, some moments are profoundly beautiful and touching. Not only does the film address what it’s like to be gay in conservative Japan, where neither woman can be open about their relationship and Yuki cannot get help from her family unless she were to leave Ai but it is also just a lovely relationship that is explored in the movie. The film shows a loving and warm relationship. Yes, they have disagreements, times when they need to be more open and honest with each other but ultimately a love that is supportive, strong, dynamic, and gentle. The love between the pair is the heart of the story and it is very well illustrated, performed, and written.
There is a theme of sacrifice ingrained into each scene which is a huge part of the culture. Both Ai and Yuki are willing to sacrifice to support the other, even when it is difficult and times are dark for them. They are not willing to let go of each other or let go of their love and it is powerful, both in the desperate times but also in happier memories. That thread of sacrifice connects the film from beginning to end. I also love the metaphor of a matcha and vanilla cake to describe their relationship and life, bitter surrounded by sweet. It is a beautiful way to express everything in life and love.
Most of the transitions and pacing in the film work well. The film is slow-paced but it is critical to explore and develop the relationship as well as the progress of the illness. The transition for different times, using a dancer, does highlight that pace. The one transition that seems out of place is the scene with the radio announcer and the scene with Yuki’s friend Matt. While the scene is important to detailing an important fact to Yuki for later in the film, the introduction to that scene seems out of place and abrupt. A smoother transition might help develop the scene better. The radio announcement does seem to fit but there is no smooth transition to that announcement. However, despite that, the overall film is lovely and worth every minute of watching.
If you love films about other cultures or relationships that stand together no matter the obstacles, this is a film you will want to watch. It is beautifully performed, both actresses are incredibly skilled, the story is touching and impactful, and you will learn much about both the Japanese culture and how LGBTQ couples are treated. I loved the film and recommend it highly.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 cakes.
Matcha & Vanilla
Yuki and Ai are a long-term lesbian couple living in the closet in Japan’s traditional society. When Yuki is diagnosed with terminal cancer, they must fight against their family, the hospital and society in order to stay together until the end. MATCHA & VANILLA will launch on the streaming service GagaOOLala on December 24, 2021.
ONE-LINER: A lesbian couple in conservative Japan must fight to stay together when one of them is diagnosed with terminal cancer.