Love is love, Love conquers all, Love know’s no limits, why does age matter? What’s in a name?
The film “The Shortest Distance is a Roundabout” takes all these romantic cliches and smashes them with the characters of this Japanese BL film. The result is a writhing, pulsing, body of work that stands on it’s own two feet, without any need for an inspiration from a manga or novel. Instead it moves like water flooding the first floor of a home! Uncaring of those it harms, as it displays a young man on the cusp of adulthood, standing before a world of expectations and lust. With the acceptance of his circumstances, the aftermath is the water filling the room, drowning him in this new world of touch and greed and above all lies about love.
Through the eyes of Haruto (played by Mukai Riku) we witness his transformation from timid high school student with unspoken feelings for his teacher to a strong, resourceful gay man. He shrewdly looks at the life he now leads while never forgetting his love for the man who changed it with one stolen kiss long ago. The one who stole the kiss is the handsome older man Aoyama(Ryohei Shioguchi), his teacher. The movie begins on a random day of high school for Haruto when his quiet self imposed isolation is intruded by Aoyama. The next part switches between vignettes showing how they meet versus their present.
It’s a very bold way to tell an original story that can come off as weird to some people as the film swings back and forth between their different circumstances every couple of minutes. The reason is too display their differing levels of intimacy. In a clever touch of filmmaking the two time periods have variant color palettes, the past is very gray and dreary. The gray tones symbolize the colorless world Haruto lived in, before Aoyama started teaching at his high school while the warm colors portray their six month later friendship.
The acts they commit in both timelines are ironically the same yet differ in the way they occur. In the past Aoyama is shy, and new to the school and wants a quiet place to eat his lunch and finds Haruto in his chosen location reading a book. In the present Haruto is sitting by the river waiting for Aoyama. The fact that in the beginning he is alone when Aoyama joins him, as against the present when Aoyama appears is an example of this. Haruto’s startled shyness is replaced by a companionable silence when Aoyama sits beside him. The journal the two write their thoughts is another example. All while the color scheme and their style of hair differs based on the timeline.
Again this film feels more like Yaoi brought to life, so the viewer either suspends their disbelief over a thirty year old man having a plutonic friendship or has the surprise moment when Haruto is ill. Aoyama steals his first kiss and Haruto reacts violently to it. I want to take a second and bring up something because I rarely hear about it objectively. The concept of Lolita as a common film trope is used throughout the world to obligate the obvious reasoning that an older man wants a younger person. Portraying this sort of situation in the film could have handled in a different way.
Whether it’s right or wrong is based entirely on your thinking, so I won’t speak about that but what I will do is point out that this scene is the catalyst for the entire film. It is the moment where Haruto learns that even in the safety of his own isolated existence his choices have consequences. He reports Aoyama for harassment and Aoyama quits teaching and vanishes while Haruto secretly dreams about that kiss over and over for years. Now living in obscurity with roomates in a small apartment, he is back to the dull gray tones leading me to believe Aoyama brought color to his world.
The film then takes a turn for the dark as the depraved Haruto who in the present goes by the name Yuki is a host(high end escort) working for violent gangsters. His choices again alter his life as he tries something underhanded and finds himself in a 6 millon debt to the big boss. The color scheme is darker to match the mood, the acting here is perfectly insidious and the soundtrack is dark wave synth music, perfect. The first inkling of how dark this film will go comes when a beaten and bloody Haruto comes face to face with an eyeless man, who had done the same thing he had attempted to do.
The theme “Be honest or else” seems to come through the strongest here as Haruto continues to make bad choices that land him in deeper and more dangerous circumstances. By chance he meets Aoyama, now homeless living under a bridge and the two have a well written and acted reunion where many things are laid bare between them with heavy implications. Haruto is taken back to Royama(big boss) and sold into sexual slavery at a male brothel and he learns how low he can sink. Or how successful he can be!
The concept is truly interesting in how the captor turns his circumstancesaround as he adapts to being a whore. Maki who himself is an adult video actor truly gives a stunning perfomance as Haruto. The film shows massive amounts of gay sex for a while and I didn’t fast forward through it, only because the film displays Haruto’s growth through his experiences. He truly learns who he is as he goes from being submissively used to being in control of his circumstances, even going so far as being put in a room with the very man who owns him and asked to show what’s so special about him.
Here in this moment of startling dominance Haruto and Yuki merge intoone person as he assumes complete control of the man and doesn’t stop until he is satisfied and Big Boss submits to him. Unfortunately here is where the film takes a turn for the predictable and if you’ve seen “Memoir of a Geisha” you can guess where it’s going. Seiya, an aging boy in the ground that is run by the boss of the brothel is getting less and less clients due to Yuki’s popularity, So he asks for a private session with him, during which he viciously destroys Yuki’s manhood. The scene has the same level of masterful performance as the rest of the film and shows almost everything so I had to mute my phone and look away until it as over.
Haruto now a eunuch, but debt free is told to meet the account of the club to get his last amount of money. Arriving at the apartment of the accountant he is shocked to see it is Aoyama. I was overjoyed as throughout all of the film, every time Haruto had sex with other men, he was only thinking about Aoyama. He truly loves Aoyama, Aoyama relates his story and the two finally kiss and more(a lot more). The film ends with their decision to leave the country as other people involved in their story find their ends very bloody.
Overall, this is in my opinion on this important film for many reasons. For people who sexualize older and younger relationships, seeing it displayed in this untethered manner might change their view of it. For people who demonize gay sex or sex workers this film can be eye opening. For hopeless romantics, it does a fantastic job of displaying that love can exist even in the worst of circumstances. Fantastically shot, thought provoking, this is an excellent film. Is it hard to sit through a man’s degradation? Of course, because it is essential to see the story of these fleshed out and realistic characters. The music is a brilliant score that suits every moment and the acting of the two main leads kept me glued to the screen thoughout the film.
Rating- 4 out of 5