Can men and women be friends without this leading to a romantic relationship? Some say yes, some say no. There is hardly a question on which opinions differ so widely. Young Japanese director Mayu Akiyama also deals with this topic in her feature film debut. Her main character Nasa works for an online magazine and conducts a self-experiment for her story. In a bar, she meets Sota and learns that he is working for a company named “Rent-a-Friend”. It is an agency that offers “friends” for rent. Since Sota claims that he has a switch he can switch off all romantic feelings towards women, he seems to be the perfect object of study for her series of articles.
Akiyama chooses to use simple means and a minimalistic staging, which are probably partly due to a modest production budget. The reduced form, however, also has the advantage of creating realistic proximity between the audience and the protagonists. This gives the film an almost documentary style. However, despite the film’s brevity, Akiyama manages to present a multi-layered work. Around the love theme, which is in the foreground, there are a lot of other themes, which create a dense picture of Japanese reality.
Nasa and Sota visit old water towers that still stand around Tokyo. This interest in architecture is important for the depiction of the character of Nasa. She is depicted as having a melancholic and romantic soul. She looks out for something that not everyone sees anymore. These water towers have lost their function and they stand unnoticed between modern buildings. Nasa takes a new look at them, she gives them a new dignity. By comparing Sota to them, she shows him that she sees him. She sees that he is an independent person. She sees behind his function as a mere “friend for rent.”
Again and again, sometimes more discreetly, sometimes more clearly, the film refers to the role of women in Japanese society. The topic of age, for example, is a frequent motif. Nasa emphasizes that she is 29 and thus almost 30, and talks about it as if she were on the verge to cross an important and fatal line when she reaches the age of 30. If you are not yet in a serious relationship or even married at 30, this is a reason for social ostracism or at least for being considered an outsider. Another interesting aspect of Akiyama’s script is the profession of her main character. She is a writer for an online magazine that mainly employs women. Here, too, the film stays close to real life as it reflects the discussions about audience-attractive articles, click-throughs, and journalistic ethics.
The story focuses on two main characters. While Atsushi Hashimoto as Sota seems a bit bland, Eri Tokunaga as Nasa has her charm. Yet, this constellation fits the movie’s intention. Sota is the more passive part of the two, he functions as a projection screen for Nasa’s feelings and wishes. Both actors fill out their part sensitively and convincingly. Even in supporting roles like the one of Nasa’s roommate or her work colleague, Akiyama has found interesting new faces, which fit seamlessly into the whole ensemble.