Seducing with whispers of sweet nothings, “I Have to Buy New Shoes” follows a casual fling that trails off on a wistful note and leaves one with an unquenchable longing. Produced by Shunji Iwai and helmed by Erika Kitagawa, who penned Japan’s highest-rated TV dramas in the ’90s, this Paris-set romantic interlude between a vacationing photographer and an older expat femme ambles along with laid-back, conversational charm, echoing “Before Sunset” without being derivative of it. The continental-chic tech package will sell like Ferragamo pumps to the Asian female demographic.
Photographer Sen Yagami (Osamu Mukai) is coaxed into going to Paris on vacation by younger sister Suzume (Mirei Kiritani), but en route to their hotel, she dumps him on the banks of the Seine, and runs off to pay a surprise visit to her resident artist b.f. Kango (Go Ayano). Meanwhile, Aoi Teshigawara (Miho Nakayama), a magazine editor who’s lived in France for years, literally stumbles into Sen’s path when her high heel snaps. One thing leads to another, and he ends up sleeping in her bathtub.
The meringue-light plot eschews the soapy melodrama typical of Nipponese romances in favor of coy flirtation. In fact, the film is never riveting, yet everything the protags do carries a frisson of suggestion. How Aoi and Suzume respond to their respective love interests epitomizes the art of going with the flow, as well as knowing when to let go. Even an image as cliched as the Eiffel Tower is visualized anew as an emblem of permanence that underscores the transience of human relationships.
Along with filmmakers like Yuki Tanada and Nami Iguchi, Kitagawa is making her stamp on male-centric Japanese cinema by celebrating love between mature femmes and younger men, without patronizing or ridiculing them. There’s at least a decade’s age difference between Aoi and Sen, but it’s mentioned only once, and doesn’t seem to be a barrier to their mutual attraction.
The ineffably elegant Nakayama (“Love Letter,” “Sayonara Itsuka”) lends this representation credibility; a longtime resident of Gaul, the actress looks genuinely comfortable in her surroundings. As Aoi eventually confides in Sen about her unhappy past, she exudes an air of melancholy and loneliness without losing her graceful composure. Mukai (“Hanamizuki”) is relaxed and amiable in his little-boy-lost role, but his perf lacks flair. Kiritani makes little impression until the coda, when she suddenly displays unexpected spunk. Amanda Plummer (“Pulp Fiction”) turns up in an odd cameo as Aoi’s dotty neighbor.
Exquisitely mounted so that every shot looks like a page from Vogue or Architectural Digest, the film offers a form of celluloid tourism and style bible, reflected in Aoi’s divine wardrobe and the beautiful bric-a-brac that surrounds her. Lenser Chigi Kanbe’s restless handheld camera dances amorously around the two couples while lush lighting embraces everyone and everything in incandescent sunlight. Kotringo and Ryuichi Sakamoto’s warm, melodic score is a departure from Sakamoto’s usual icy synthesizer compositions.