Osaka-based, Chinese-Malaysian writer and director Kah-Wai Lim’s 2013 Fly Me to Minami (Koi suru minami or 恋するミナミ) is a well-executed, fun film with an organized story that leaves behind no loose ends. It looks at the intersecting lives of a fashion magazine editor from Hong Kong, a flight attendant from Seoul, and two men from Osaka: a Korean-Japanese shopkeeper and a Japanese amateur photographer. Korean, Japanese, Cantonese, and English are all used at various points in the movie.
Viewers are treated to impressively lit and artistically arranged scenes set in 3 of Asia’s most exciting cities: Hong Kong, Seoul, and Osaka. While we only get glimpses of Seoul and Hong Kong, they tease enough to make the audience want to run travel searches when they get home. Osaka gets more attention as the main ground for the film. We are shown multiple locations and get a thorough look at how life could be in Osaka for four random thirty-somethings in the winter.
Looking at the principal characters, the two male leads present a number of contrasts. On the simple end, they are physically quite different. Looking deeper, Shinsuke is a married father with a full time job which he has thanks to his Korean background and bilingualism. He supports his wife and child, although he struggles with what he wants in life, and in particular, what the “family unit” means to him.
On the flip-side, Tatsuya is single and in search of love. He knows what he wants, but just can’t seem to get there. He has very much fallen victim to the competitive job market of today. As a monolingual ethnic Japanese, he struggles to fit into an economy that is becoming ever more globalised and demanding.
The two women are also interesting to look at. Both are from different countries. They are both in Japan for their jobs and have a strong desire to resolve their loneliness yet take very different approaches to this issue.
Small Touches, Big Difference
Aside from the trans-national story theme, it is the small touches in this film that made it special for me.
I loved how this was not set in Tokyo. So often, a film set in Japan means set in Tokyo. Lim is conscious of this and makes a point of it even in the dialogue. Kudos for going against the grain, here!
In another scene, Seol-a returns to Seoul with bags of clothes for her friend’s shop and they talk about the lack of differentiation in styles between Korea and Japan today. The friend continues about how it really doesn’t matter where something is from when that something is what you like. This short exchange doesn’t affect the core story much, but it gave that minor character depth as she makes a strong statement and has it resonate by linking it with something a lot of us can relate to: “cute clothes.”
A third example is the creative camera work used. At one point, the bizarre Momotaro appears with a couple for what feels like an awkwardly placed bit. The camera pulls back to reveal Seol-a sitting nearby and we are brought back to the main plotline. A small diversion, it’s cute and it offers a window to the world of Japanese street performers.
One more is how the point is made that Shinsuke is Korean-Japanese, but this cultural aspect is not used negatively. Last year I watched a documentary called “Hafu,” which explores ethnic diversity in Japan and what identity means to someone of mixed race there. There was a girl (half-Korean/half- Japanese) whose Korean side was kept a secret by her mother for years for her daughter’s protection. The daughter recounts her conversation and mentions how her mother said if she married a pure Japanese, she should be prepared for her husband to leave her if she revealed that she was part Korean. This memory brings her to tears on camera and it was heartbreaking to see. I am grateful to Wah-Kai Lim for providing a different take on the Koreans-in-Japan subject.
Fly Me to Minami grabbed my attention as an Asian diaspora story. For others, anyone who has ever lived in a different country, formed relationships with others, and been faced with very common yet complicated decisions regarding love, can connect with it. After watching this film, I reflected on some things I did when I lived abroad, things I don’t regret, and those experiences that have allowed me to make better sense out of this crazy existence that I hope to one day fully understand.
Thank you Kah-Wai Lim. I look forward to many more of your projects! And thank you to the Your Kontinent Film & Media Arts Festival for bringing this film to Vancouver (Richmond)!asian diaspora stories, hong kong, inter-asian relations, Inter-Asian Relations in Film, Japanese Film, Kah-Wai Lim, Kenji Kohashi, Miho Fujima, minami, osaka, richmond, seoul, Sherine Wong, Terunosuke Takezai, vancouver, Your Kontinent Festival