Strained relationships and comfort food – Japanese Film Festival kicks off with Bento’s Harassment

KARACHI (Thq HQ News) For someone who has never watched a single Japanese film before, it was interesting and yet also strange to be invited to a Japanese Film Festival being hosted in Karachi.
Renpei Tsukamoto’s Bento Harassment was showed to the viewers. While the name suggests that the film is a metaphorical, social commentary on something dark, it surprises the audience with a heartwarming family drama where a single mother is navigating her strained relationship with her rebellious daughter and finds food as the love language that binds them together.
Exploring a universal theme of familial love, the film showcased some exceptional performances and direction but perhaps, the writing got lost in translation. It felt lazy and uninspired but the overall production value, saved by the cute little graphics in the film, mostly made up for the shortcomings. Set in Hachijojima, a small Japanese volcanic island just outside of Tokyo, Bento Harassment sees Kaori (Ryoko Shinohara), a single mother struggling to meet ends after her husband dies and the constant hustle eventually affects her relationship with her daughters, Wakaba (Rena Matsui) and Futaba (Kyôko Yoshine).
While Wakaba has already moved out of the house, the film depicts how Kaori’s relationship with her younger daughter Futaba deteriorates as she grows old. The film begins with a scene where Kaori walks with her two daughters who wouldn’t dare to leave their mommy’s hand and then cuts to the present where the younger one barely even talks to her anymore. Despite being given advice on letting Futaba’s angsty teenage phase be, Kaori does not give up and decides to “take revenge.” Stubborn in her own way, she does what most mothers, even here, do — make food but she gets creative with her Bento by naming it “Iyagarase Bento” (Revenge Lunches). So now, Futaba’s lunch boxes featured mascot characters, messages, and movie references cut out from seaweed, rice, sausages and more.

The symbolic bento lunches instantly become a hit amongst Futaba’s friends, who would all wait for Kaori’s character Bentos — or Chara-Ben as she called them. From the horror movie The Ring’s ghost to cute cartoon characters to even subtle taunts for domestic chores, bento lunches became the mode of communication between the mother-daughter. Futaba gets embarrassed initially but ends up eating each seed of rice to prove a point to her mother, hoping the ‘torture’ would soon end. But of course, Kaori’s plans end up being fruitful with Futaba ultimately opening up to her. However, as adolescence hits again in the face of a crush from school, tension rises even more, while Kaori’s daily Bentos on top of her two jobs, eventually take a toll on her health.

The film goes from quirky to emotional real quick with Futaba realising how much her mother loves her and how she always took it for granted. She ponders over how she always enjoyed the attention from both, her mother and her class, the daily “embarrassing” Bentos, but desperately tried to keep her feelings bottled in a misplaced antagonism she held for her.
Bento Harassment, while focusing on Futaba and Kaori’s flawed relationship, also had multiple subplots on how while Futaba is busy ignoring her mother, she decides to make a blog out of her character bentos which eventually makes her cross paths with a single dad struggling to bond with his son — one that was unnecessarily hogging screen time — and didn’t have to feel like that if the single dad had more to offer than running after his son. Watching the film, you’re almost hoping for a melodrama to unfold but it stays on neutral grounds with not much unfolding even in its climax. The film stays a family drama revolving around an ingenious variety of bento meals Kaori is preparing and the way Futaba reacts to them — and nothing else. On the other hand, it was interesting to see the plethora of Japanese pop culture you’re introduced to with the bento lunches throughout the film. It also gives an insight into the peculiarities of food in Japanese culture, and how much care and effort goes into making a homemade boxed lunch. What made the aftertaste of the film even more real was how the Consulate General of Japan in Karachi arranged bento boxes, similar to how they looked in the film, for lunch following the screening. The festival aims to promote a wider understanding of Japanese culture within Pakistan through media to primarily showcase how similar the two cultures are, especially, with universal themes of love and rebellion.