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Matcha And Vanilla

Critic:

William Hemingway

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Posted on:

27 Jul 2022

Film Reviews
Matcha And Vanilla
Directed by:
Hamish Downie
Written by:
Hamish Downie
Starring:
Qyoko Kudo, Tomoko Hayakawa
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For those of us interested in following the happenings of Bake Off: The Professionals there's no need to explain what matcha is, other than to say that it is one of patisserie queen, Cherish Finden's favourite flavours to use in dessert making, as long as the flavour is finely balanced and not too much of it is used. For everyone else it's probably best to say that matcha is a green, ground powder made from specially grown tea leaves, which has a slightly bitter, earthy taste to it.

 

What writer/director Hamish Downie is doing, pairing Matcha And Vanilla in his new feature's title, is describing the bittersweet nature of life, which gives with one hand and takes away with the other, while also describing in basic terms the personality of his two lead characters. Ai (Kudo) is quiet and timid and doesn't share much about herself with others. She likes the simple life and takes pleasure in things being comfortable and easy. Yuki (Hayakawa), by contrast, likes to stand out. She wears funky glasses and dyes her hair. She likes to take risks and seeks excitement through experience. Their tastes may be different, but in a delicately balanced way they complement each other to create something new – in this case their blossoming relationship.

 

Ten years later and Ai and Yuki are settled down together in an Osaka apartment, happy in themselves and in each other, but still keeping their relationship a secret from the outside world. Their love for each other is apparent, and is evidenced in full by plenty of softcore scenes with skin on skin, which feel like they're in soft focus even if they're not. Downie takes his time to pile on the 'sweet' scenes at the beginning, making sure the audience understands the depth of love between the two women, as soon enough the 'bitter' parts of life come crashing in.

 

Both women suffer tragedy which they can't initially communicate with one another, both deciding to lie about their situation to their partner as they try to protect them from a grief too terrible to bear. Ai has lost her job and has been trying for weeks to get a new one to no avail. Yuki, however, has been given a cancer diagnosis which knocks her for six when she finds out she only has a few months left to live. The rest of the film then deals with the fallout of this trauma and how desperately alone the two women find themselves in the face of traditional, conservative Japan.

 

What is most striking about Matcha And Vanilla is of course the relationship between the two main characters. Ai and Yuki are both obviously positive and dutiful and live without harming anyone, yet are forced to live as 'friends' or 'sisters' so that no-one starts asking uncomfortable questions or 'outs' them to the rest of the community. Both lead actresses do an exceptional job of portraying their character, delivering real, unvarnished, believable and natural performances throughout some really challenging scenes. This is the film's real strength and luckily, as the main actresses are on screen for pretty much every frame, this carries the film, allowing the audience to believe in the scenario and the relationship to the end.

 

Unfortunately though, a lot of the rest of the film isn't stitched together very well. There are plenty of nice shots from DoP/Producer Paul Leeming, and Downie's direction seems solid, if not really reaching for more, but in the end it's the technical aspects which let the film down. There's some quite patchy sound editing going on, with some parts so hard to hear that it was just as well there were subtitles on the screen. The video editing somewhat suffers the same fate with some scenes ending quite abruptly and some that seem shoehorned in without much cause.

 

Then there's the music, arranged by Deron Reynolds, who also co-wrote most of the original songs played on the soundtrack. These schmalzy, warbling oddities almost seem like a pastiche of other more famous songs which they sound similar to, and detract and distract from what's happening on screen. There is a real disconnect between the songs and the visuals from which the film only suffers.

 

All in all, Matcha And Vanilla survives as a worthwhile film due to its important, relevant story and the incredible ability of its two main leads. It is touching and tragic in equal measure and really strives to bring home the message of what it's like for members of the LGBTQ+ community in what is still one of the most rigid societies on the planet. Despite its faults Matcha And Vanilla has plenty to offer the audience and makes real a difficult situation which still only ever gets hidden behind closed doors.

About the Film Critic
William Hemingway
William Hemingway
Indie Feature Film, World Cinema, LGBTQ+