|Thanks to the success of the Death Note movies, Kenichi Matsuyama had one of his biggest years in 2007, when he had the chance to headline his first television drama. However, like other breakout young Japanese actors before him, Matsuyama manages to balance a successful career between commercial blockbusters and small independent projects. Nami Iguchi's Don't Laugh at My Romance is a successful example of one of the latter. A light yet non-comedic look at an affair between an older woman and a younger man, Don't Laugh at My Romance is a film too subtle and too anti-climatic for most Death Note fans. It will, however, likely find a following amongst mature urbanites looking for a quieter coming-of-age film.
While Matsuyama, as the lovelorn college student Mirume, is the central character of the story, the spotlight clearly goes to Hiromi Nagasaku as the older free spirit Yuri. The idea of seducing an older housewife is a typical pornographic fantasy in Japan, but writer/director Iguchi and Nagasaku has no interest in making Yuri a simple object of Mirume's sexual obsession. Yuri does exude a playful presence that is apparent from the first scene, in which she wanders the streets of suburban Saitama early one morning after missing the last train. That morning also marks her first meeting with Mirume, when his he and his friends end up giving her a ride.
When Mirume sees Yuri again at the university, surprise turns into curiosity as he discovers that she's the new substitute lithography teacher. Things begin innocently, with Yuri giving Mirume private lithography lessons. However, when she invites him to her countryside cottage for a sketching session, it seems like Mirume is the only person who doesn't know what will happen, and the only surprising part of the resulting seduction is how effortlessly Yuri pulls it off. The problem with such May-December romances is that the younger one ends up getting too involved. In this case, it happens when Mirume discovers that Yuri is a married woman – by meeting her husband at her home.
Despite the promise of risqué content (L in a sex scene?!), Don't Laugh at My Romance is only mature in its subject matter and not in its actual content. While all the titles for the film (The Japanese title - Hito no Sex wo Warauna - literally translates to “Don't Laugh at People's Sex”) suggest the presence of sex, we only see the before and after of the actual act, and only in longish medium shots. The film's lack of close-ups and use of extended quiet long takes may be frustrating to some, but the tame nature of the film represents Yuri's generally indifferent attitude towards sex and love.
What Don't Laugh at My Romance lacks in visual style is made up in spades by the performances. Matsuyama gives an appropriately low-key performance here as the dopey Mirume. He carries the desperately lovelorn character well, even though his character spends a third of the film acting down and withdrawn. With a female director at the helm, it's no surprise that the women register as the stronger characters. In addition to the scene-stealing Nagasaku, young actress Yu Aoi also stands out as Mirume's long-suffering crush En-Chan. With a spunky cuteness that complements Nagasaku's mature flirt, Aoi livens up the film whenever she's on screen and is the source for many of the film's comic moments. Iguchi never makes her a tragic character, despite her unrequited love for Mirume. With her endless optimism and youthful charm, Aoi's performance is guaranteed to make a few fans out of the audience.
While Don't Laugh at My Romance doesn't really feature any objectionable content, it's still strictly a movie for adults because of its mature attitude. The film may be misconstrued as a film that undermines the effects of sex because of its lack of serious drama. However, as Mirume's outcome and the title suggests, Iguchi is expressing that sex does come with effects. The effects may not always result in emotional outbursts, but it comes with a quiet devastation in real life that the young ones may not be able to comprehend. As a result, Don't Laugh at My Romance is a perfect antithesis to mainstream idol-led "pure love" romances, with its lack of contrived illnesses and dark backstories. It's not a particularly entertaining film, but it's certainly more sincere than what's floating around out there today. (Kevin Ma, 2008)