Rent a Friend
Eri Tokunaga, Atsuchi Hashimoto, Sumire Ashina
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… can’t help but charm with its peculiar and buoyant sensibilities.
Upon first meeting Mochizuki Nasa (Eri Tokunaga) in Japanese rom-com Rent a Friend, the audience is introduced to an eccentric twenty-nine (almost-thirty) year-old woman yelling to the ocean about how useless her breast massager is.
Channelling her inner Carrie Bradshaw, Nasa’s unadulterated honesty filters through to her job as a journalist for an online publication, her critical eye enabling her to ponder big questions on modern relationships. In particular, the age-old question of whether men and women can sustain platonic friendships.
Nasa encounters ‘friend-for-hire’ Sota Yanase (Atsushi Hashimoto); a charming gent who charges for his friendship. He is not an escort. Nor should he be mistaken for one. What begins as a seemingly innocent business arrangement, one which Nasa documents for her work, evolves when her musician-housemate Tamaki Ono (Sumire Ashina) begins to have feelings for Yanase.
What culminates with this unusual triangle is a quirkily told and tightly constructed exploration about connection; one that writer-director Mayu Akiyama relays non-judgmentally through the gaze of a young woman searching for self-fulfilment.
There is a warm glow to Rent a Friend that captures the vibrancy of Japan. It is a warmth that Akiyama complements with clean production design and beautiful shots that showcase her sublime sense of mise-en-scène.
Akiyama is a director who draws out sincere performances from her cast. The standout being Tokunaga, who digs deep to deliver a heartfelt and undeniably vulnerable performance. Music plays a vital role in the film, with many of the musical performances offering moving character insight that would have felt underscored had they been translated into speech.
Where contemporary films like Her and The Lobster offered confronting views on connection – particularly about technology and ostracism – Rent a Friend can’t help but charm with its peculiar and buoyant sensibilities.