Love in Tokyo: Confusion in Japan

Watch if: you liked Guddu
Don’t watch if: consistent characterisation is important to you
Best song: Sayonara is certainly the catchiest
Soundrack overall: pleasantly crowded; you’re not going to want for musical numbers here

I’m reading The God of Small Things, by Arudhati Roy. It’s good; it’s great. It’s the kind of book that I’m going to regret reaching the end of. In the book, one of the characters wears a Love in Tokyo hairband. When I found out it was named after a film, of course, that film had to be next on my list.

There’s an insane amount of story in Love in Tokyo; those with 21st century attention-spans (i.e. me), may wish to take notes. Turn away from the screen at your own risk. The first half is mostly wacky comedy, the second is maximum sas-bahu drama and potential tragedy. I’m going to have to write a lot of the plot out to get it straight in my own head, so beware of spoilers (for this 60-year-old film).

The opening credits are a beautiful procession of Japanese scenes, complete with that font – you know the one. This is great, because if you had been kidnapped and dumped in a cinema without knowing which film you were about to see, and also couldn’t read, you would still know where the film was set.

As is traditional, the first twenty minutes or so of the film is full of older family members ruining young ones’ lives. No-one is allowed to marry who they want – that would be ridiculous! Also, we would have no film. Firstly, Sheela (Shubha Kote) is not allowed to marry Mahesh (Mehmood), to the extent that her father takes her to Japan to escape him. He wants her to marry a fat old man!

Asha (Asha Parekh), who already lives in Japan, is in an even worse predicament – her father wanted her to marry a dark, ugly old man! At least, his will says so, according to her very suspicious uncle. In the tradition of heroines everywhere, Asha escapes through the window.

As if all this destruction of love’s young dream isn’t enough, the Wicked Ma of the West enters the picture. It is revealed that her son ran away to Japan years ago and married a Japanese woman, and she disowned him for life. Now that son and his wife are both dead, and she is not even sorry – the complete absence of mamta in this woman is amazing. After some pricking of her conscience by her younger son Ashok (Joy Mukherjee) she agrees to adopt the child of this unholy union, Chikoo (Master Shahid). Ashok runs off to Japan to get him before Evil Ma changes her mind.

Chikoo is not stupid – he is well-versed in the politics of citizenry, and he has no intention of leaving Japan. He proves this by judo-tossing his uncle and running away. Naturally, he immediately runs into Asha, who takes pity on him and decides to look after him forever and ever! The overabundance of mamta in this woman teenage girl is amazing; I suppose it’s because Chikoo hasn’t got around to judo-tossing her yet.

Ashok panics surprisingly little about losing his little nephew, and just sort of hangs around all night till he sees him again. I guess he’s heard about the famously low rates of crime in Japan. Asha, however, has been broadcast all over Japanese TV as a missing person, complete with a hefty reward. This is great, because it means disguises.

To be precise, it means a Sardar outfit even less convincing than Rani’s in Dil Bole Haddipa. Asha manages to look even more female than she did in a saree, but Ashok is fully convinced.

Wtness this masculine display!

When she dons her next disguise, a Japanese aunt of Chikoo’s, Ashok falls head-over-heels in love with her, and he doesn’t even mind when its revealed that the aunt, sardar and Asha are all one liar. It’s when the two of them confess their romance to Evil Ma that the fun really starts.

After being told by her vicious potential sas to kill herself (!), Asha obediently runs off to do so (!!). Ashok chases after her and gets injured in an accident. The doctor warns that Joy may be blind when he wakes up, and suggests an eye transplant (!!!). Evil Ma offers hers (literally the only genuinely selfless thing she does during the whole film) but the doctor says her eyes are too old. She then berates the woman she wants Ashok to marry for not being a good enough wife and giving him her eyes. Asha volunteers – still not enough to stop Evil Ma snarling at her – but THANK GOD, Ashok is not actually blind.

Meanwhile, Mahesh has also spent a fair proportion of the film in disguises: first he pretends to be a geisha, then he arrives at Sheela’s house pretending to be a doctor, then he dresses up as an old fat guy to marry Sheela. In between all this, he (while looking like himself) is a victim of a mysterious chemical reaction which means he is briefly able to fly, a power which he wisely uses to rescue an incredibly stupid Japanese child from a railway line. The child’s mother doesn’t even thank him; maybe it was her who put the kid on the railway line.

Mysteriously, we are given to understand that they all live happily ever after, in India – including I-am-so-Japanese-I-judo Chikoo.

Lalita Pawar is amazing as the Evil Ma; I hated her guts the whole time. It reminded me of another film where she threw a baby because it was untouchable and I kept getting angry about it for a week. The character appears a little inconsistent towards the very end, swinging between threats and abuse and showering family members with love and adoration, but I think she was a reasonably well-written narcissist long before the term became popularised. I’ve rarely heard a character say such abjectly evil things with so little reason.

The inconsistency of the other characters is harder to bear, because there are no pop-psych personality disorders to diagnose them with. Our wonderful, brave and resourceful, cheeky Chikoo starts simpering for the love of Evil Ma almost as soon as Asha does. Dodgy Uncle discovers some surprising information and is very sorry for all his actions. Does personality mean nothing to these people?

As for the medical science in the film: it’s advanced. It’s so advanced that doctors at one point plan a medical procedure that isn’t even possible now, let alone then. I am all for filmi suspension of disbelief, but this is too much even for me.

The romance between Ashok and Asha has its nice moments, but the camerawork keeps letting them down. There are far too many close-ups of their soppy faces; I might even go so far as to say Joy Mukherjee did not have a great talent for looking at his heroines. (Unlike, say, SRK or Akshay Kumar in his trying-harder days.) It is possible that I misread the tone and these odd expressions were actually meant to be funny. If that’s the case, though, it means that the film is essentially a madcap comedy with some mysteriously inserted high-drama at the end, which is a much weirder explanation.

Overall, I was annoyed by the film, primarily because the real bad guy gal, Evil Ma, ended up getting no comeuppance whatsoever. Unlike your average Horrible Parent in a film, she didn’t even act sorry. The happy-ever-after was impossible to believe in, because we just know that all the characters would go back to India to be tortured by Evil Ma for the rest of her life. The plot was incredibly difficult for me to keep up with, but that was probably more to do with my goldfish concentration span than anything. Presumably the ’60s viewer was more equipped than me to deal with the astonishing number of events.

It turned out that the opening credits were a fair insight into how the film was going to represent Japan, too. Every so often, when the audience was at risk of forgetting where the film was set, a Japanese symbol/stereotype (symtype?) appeared to remind us. There’s a geisha, there’s a fluttering fan, there’s a tea ceremony; I think they missed a sumo wrestler, but it’s possible I missed him. There are almost no ethnically Japanese people. I couldn’t work out why I was annoyed by this for a while. After all, I barely even notice when there are films set in the USA or UK with exclusively Indian characters. Then I realised that it’s because, in those NRI films, my brain has no trouble accepting the characters are both Indian and British/American, whereas thinking of Asha and Chikoo as both Japanese and Indian – they were both born there – just apparently did not occur to the automatic people-sorter in my brain. So that was an interesting insight either into how-we-think-about-ethnicity or my-own-unexamined-ignorances. There’s actually been a significant Indian expat community in Japan since the 1870s, which just goes to show that if you want to learn something new, you should watch an old film.

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