December 29, 2015 – 5:25 am

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Foot fetishists might think they are in for a jolly good time but Ryuichi Hiroki’s Her Granddaughter (2015) is a wry romance, perhaps updated slightly for the times - but it’s hardly anything near as kinky as the movie poster suggests. Stephen Tan reviews.

How relationships are viewed in a small town, especially when it concerned your - albeit elderly - resident dye maker, can be complicated. But for the people of the sleepy Kyushu town of Tsurumi, circumspect, and acceptance seem to be more fitting words.

When seventy-something dye maker Towa passes away, her granddaughter, Tsugumi, returns from the city to attend her funeral and decides to stay on in Towa’s house. Tsugumi had just broken up with her married boyfriend and is trying to sort out her life.

The morning after Towa’s funeral, middle-aged Jun shows up and tells a surprised Tsugumi that he had moved into the one of the rooms in the house. When Tsugumi protests, Jun says that he was given a set of house keys by Towa and that he has as much rights to the house as she. And not only that, the philosophy professor starts to demand breakfast and meals for the duration of his stay.

What follows is Jun getting drawn to Tsugumi but more interestingly, Tsugumi slowly falling for Jun. Soon after they had first met, Tsugumi had felt that Jun was Towa’s lover, despite their age difference. And even if she had felt anything, Tsugumi also felt that Jun belonged to Towa and was “out of bounds”.

But that changed over time - Jun had gone out in the rain to look for Tsugumi’s necklace which she had dropped; the two finding themselves at ease with each other at the town festival; and their being in a “pseudo-family” after a woman who knew Towa left her young son with them.

And, of course, if we go by the movie’s “controversial” movie poster and iconic image, what clinched the deal for Tsugumi is when Jun started kissing and sucking her toes! The scene may come late in the film but it’s one that foot fetishists will rejoice! The scene also isn’t as “vulgar” as it sounds - it’s rather touching (ouch!) and, needless to say, passionate.

With movies such as Vibrator (2003), M (2007) and Bakushi - a 2003 documentary on bondage and knotting, one would have expected a bit more skin from director Ryuichi Hiroki, a veteran of pinku eiga (soft porn) films. Well, Tsugumi (actress Nana Eikura) does her bare back - once when she’s wiping herself; and when she is shown after a night with Jun. And that’s about it.

Like the staid and stoic romances of old, Hiroki’s Her Granddaughter relies more on slight humour than on physical lusts. Like when Makoto, the young boy left at their house, asks: “Are you two married?” Jun says yes while Tsugumi says not. “So you haven’t had sex yet?” Jun replies: “I’ve seen her boobs”, a reference to his “spying” on the sleeping Tsugumi - “I saw ‘em two nights ago… They were out, so I had to look. At your boobs.”

A more comedic moment occurs at the final prayers for Towa where Jun formally presents himself to Tsugumi’s family and asks for Tsugumi’s hand. While everyone’s jaws dropped, Tsugumi’s mom couldn’t be happier [her daughter is “finally” getting a proposal] and she tries to ease the tension by saying: “Our mother brought them together, so it’s OK!”

Even though the movie is adapted from a manga, it doesn’t dwell on what Jun and Tsugumi actually go through. Jun says: “When I found out that Towa had passed away, I was relieved. And… I was surprised I was relieved. I wanted to bury Towa’s memory, and just fade away. And then… I fell in love with you. I was resigned to it becoming another one-way romance.” Meanwhile, Tsugumi is even more reticent when she tells her ex-lover, “While I’ve been away from you… a lot has happened to me too. I won’t marry you.”

Hiroki doesn’t make as much of the May-September relationship but still slightly problematic is the subservient role that Tsugumi finds herself in. It’s obvious she was a good worker and knows her IT stuff in her old company. And she has picked up dyeing from her grandmother. But where is that temerity she showed when she confronted her ex-lover?

Even before they are married, she is already a doddling maid in front of Jun. Tsugumi could have been a more feisty character, and certainly equal - in many ways - to Jun. She had even kicked him down when she thought he was cheating on her! Yet, she is nothing more than a cook, a servant and a housekeeper to Jun! And that somehow rankles…

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