Berlin Film Review: ‘Close-Knit’

A transgender woman becomes a mother figure to a neglected young girl in Naoko Ogigami's sensitive, blossom-scented family yarn.

Rinka Kakihara, Toma Ikuta, Kenta Kiritani, Mimura, Eiko Koike, Mugi Kadowaki, Shuji Kashiwabara, Kaito Komie, Lily, Misako Tanaka.

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5633706/

In recent years, the humble art of knitting has acquired an increasingly young, hip following for its supposedly therapeutic benefits — and finally has a film to show for it in “Close-Knit.” That’s not to trivialize the wider social issues of Naoko Ogigami’s gentle, sweet-souled celebration of alternative family structures, in which a maternally neglected young girl finds security in the care of her uncle and his transgender partner. But the knitting motif is one the film returns to repeatedly as a bonding metaphor, and one that’s wholly indicative of its snuggly feel-good appeal: This is a warm, practical, pastel-shaded cardigan of a film, even if, at over two hours, it gets a bit droopy in the sleeves. Some light cutting might make “Close-Knit” an even comfier fit for international distributors, particularly those specializing in LGBT fare.

Premiering in Berlin’s Panorama sidebar, where it has been overshadowed in conversation by Sebastian Lelio’s trans-themed Competition entry “A Fantastic Woman,” “Close-Knit” further demonstrates the growing prominence and broader acceptance of transgender narratives in the arthouse. Reminiscent of Hirokazu Koreeda at his most crowd-pleasing, the film should play without hindrance to a general audience in its emotional appeal. But that’s not to deny the quiet candor with which Ogigama explores alternative sexual and gender identities — particularly as viewed through the inquisitive eyes of 11-year-old Tomo, who’s of the age where a man choosing to become a woman can seem intriguingly novel and, at the same time, no big deal. (With a child’s lack of modesty, Tomo is cheerfully unafraid to ask what happens to the penis in a male-to-female sex-change operation — which is more than some coy filmmakers addressing the subject have done.)

Winningly but not too cutely played Rinka Kakihara, Tomo has had to grow up a little faster than her peers, thanks to the fecklessness of her mother (Mimura), an overgrown adolescent who thinks nothing of disappearing on a whim for days on end. Tomo has long counted on her kindly uncle Makio (Kenta Kiritani) to take her in during such benders, but is surprised to find the domestic order changed: Makio’s new girlfriend Rinko (Toma Ikuta) has moved in with him and is, as he puts it, “unusual.” A tall, soft-spoken care nurse with a heart as big as her self-admittedly mannish hands, Rinko gradually wins over the guarded youngster with tender affection, straight talk and a nifty way with a panda-modeled bento box. (“Close-Knit” is not to be viewed on an empty stomach; much key dramatic interaction takes place around lovingly prepared meals.) Before long, the three are sharing secrets, cycling down idyllic avenues of cherry blossom and collaborating on an eccentric knitting project that, well, weaves them neatly together.

Thus does a new, unconventional family unit takes shape, with Rinko as the doting mother Tomo has never had. Ogigama’s script resists quite such a cozy conclusion, however, as a family history of troubled maternal relationships is untangled ahead of a more complicated final act. If anyone gets a hard time in this generally benevolent film, it’s cisgender women, who fill a prejudiced, antagonistic position in more than one household here. Rinko, meanwhile, is ceaselessly patient and thoughtful, not to mention an immaculate domestic goddess in spotless twinsets; one wishes at points that Ogigama had written a few more creases into her character, though Ikuta’s performance deftly alludes to the insecurities of her past.

Such lapses in detail notwithstanding, this is a nuanced, softly lit family portrait, with compassion and conflict held carefully in balance. If anything, it could be a shade too considered: At 128 minutes, the dimensions of this intimate story are eventually tested as much as those of Makio’s bijou studio-turned-family-apartment. Naoko Eto’s thick, kuromitsu-drenched score could also exercise a bit more restraint, though the springtime airiness of Kozo Sibasaki’s cinematography is perfectly in line with the film’s most delicate instincts.

Popular on Variety

Berlin Film Review: 'Close-Knit'

Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (Panorama), Feb. 15, 2017. Running time: 127 MIN. (Original title: "Karera ga Honki de Amu toki wa")

Production: (Japan) A Close-Knit Film Partners presentation of a Paradise Cafe Inc. production. (International sales: Nikkatsu Corporation, Tokyo.) Produced byYutaka Ishikawa, Julie K. Fujishima, Hajime Inoue, Michinori Mizuno, Shiro Oiwake, Riichiro Nakamura, Kumi Kobata, Mayumi Amano, Noriaki Takagi, Masashi Igarashi, Kenzo Ishiguro. Executive producers, Takashi Iguchi, Satoshi Hayakawa.

Crew: Directed, written by Naoko Ogigami. Camera (color), Kozo Shibasaki. Editor, Shinichi Fujima.

With: Rinka Kakihara, Toma Ikuta, Kenta Kiritani, Mimura, Eiko Koike, Mugi Kadowaki, Shuji Kashiwabara, Kaito Komie, Lily, Misako Tanaka.

More Film

  • Gerard Butler Angel Has Fallen

    Film Review: 'Angel Has Fallen'

    “Angel Has Fallen” marks the third time that Gerard Butler, as the Secret Service agent and scowling samurai cowboy Mike Banning, has had to rescue the President of the United States from an international conspiracy so cuckoo bananas that the movie barely expects you to believe it. (Actually, in the six years since this series [...]

  • Jessica

    Ninja Thyberg's Female POV Porn Industry Portrait Seduces Buyers (EXCLUSIVE)

    HAUGESUND, Norway  —  Paris-based Versatile has announced a raft of pre-sales on Ninja Thyberg’s debut feature “Jessica,” set in the adult entertianment industry in L.A. World distributors that have pre-bought the Swedish drama take in Weltkino for Germany/Austria, Xenix for Switzerland, MK2/Mile End for Canada, KTH for South Korea and Movie Could for Taïwan. Several [...]

  • Sony Pictures: 'We Are Disappointed' by

    Sony 'Disappointed' by Disney's Divorce on 'Spider-Man' Projects

    Sony Pictures has gone public over its divorce with Disney on future “Spider-Man” projects. In a rare public rebuke to Disney, Sony announced Tuesday night that it was “disappointed” over the decision, highlighting Disney’s refusal to allow Marvel President Kevin Feige to continue as a producer on the projects. It also praised Feige, who teamed [...]

  • Good Boys Movie

    ‘Good Boys’ Again Tops Studios’ TV Ad Spending

    In this week’s edition of the Variety Movie Commercial Tracker, powered by the always-on TV ad measurement and attribution company iSpot.tv, Universal Pictures claims the top spot in spending for the second week in a row with “Good Boys.” Ads placed for the comedy had an estimated media value of $4.42 million through Sunday for [...]

  • Demi Lovato

    Demi Lovato Joins Netflix Comedy 'Eurovision'

    Demi Lovato has joined the upcoming Netflix comedy film “Eurovision.” Will Ferrell, who co-wrote the film with Andrew Steele, announced the news Tuesday with an Instagram post, in which he wished Lovato a happy birthday with a “homemade” cake. Following the announcement, Lovato can be seen blowing out candles on the cake next to a “Eurovision” [...]

  • Rob Schneider'The Week Of' film premiere,

    Film News Roundup: Rob Schneider Wins SAG-AFTRA National Board Seat

    In today’s film news roundup, Rob Schneider wins a SAG-AFTRA board seat; “Badland,” “Sorry We Missed You” and “Extracurricular” find homes; and “The Shawshank Redemption” gets a re-release.  SAG-AFTRA Rob Schneider has won a SAG-AFTRA national board seat as a member of presidential candidate Matthew Modine’s progressive Membership First slate. Schneider won a four-year term [...]

  • This photo shows actor David Oyelowo

    David Oyelowo Joins George Clooney in 'Good Morning, Midnight' Adaptation (EXCLUSIVE)

    David Oyelowo is in final negotiations to join George Clooney in Netflix’s untitled adaptation of Lily Brooks-Dalton’s 2016 novel “Good Morning, Midnight,” sources tell Variety. Felicity Jones and Kyle Chandler are also on board, with Clooney set to helm the pic — his first feature film directing gig since 2017’s “Suburbicon.” “The Revenant” screenwriter Mark [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content