It’s impossible to know what to expect when you sit down to watch the 2020 film Tapestry (orig. 糸 Ito: “string.”)
Almost all of the available online descriptions make it sound like a love story about two people who first met when they were young, then continued to run into each other during the most formative parts of their lives, like a Japanese version of When Harry Met Sally. But a lot of the trailers seemed to suggest that the story is actually about a pregnant woman with cancer, with the accompanying moody music not boding well for her survival chances. Weirder still, she isn’t even the woman from all the posters. And if you’ve listened to someone who’s actually seen the movie, you might be surprised – and by now thoroughly confused –to hear that there’s also a story in there about starting your own business in Singapore? And a cheese contest…? AND the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami?!
So either Tapestry is actually three or four different movies that a clumsy production assistant accidentally spliced together, or there’s something deeper happening here. Fortunately for moviegoers, it’s the latter.
A Story with A Lot of Left Turns
Let’s start from the beginning. The movie indeed opens with Ren and Aoi running into each other as kids and falling in love. Then things turn dark when we realize Aoi is actually a victim of (very hard to watch) domestic violence at the hands of her mother’s boyfriend. Ren tries to save her but fails and the two are separated for seven years.
But then they meet again by chance and rekindle their love, right? The first part is true but, no, they don’t end up together then. They talk a little and then get back to their lives, and that’s when Tapestry appears to unravel as the movie seemingly turns into a series of individual vignettes starring Ren and Aoi (some of which crossover with each other). We see Aoi trying to find her mother to get an apology from her for not protecting her when she was a kid. Then we see her travel to Singapore and starting a successful nail treatment business (until her partner steals from her.)
Ren, on the other hand, starts dating his co-worker, has a child with her, then deals with his partner’s cancer. Then he unsuccessfully enters a cheese-making contest a bunch of times. None of those stories are long enough to offer any deep dives into their individual subject matters so they seem totally pointless. In a movie, every second of screentime counts, so why waste it on a bunch of unconnected… well, stuff?
With any other director, you’d just assume that someone had literally lost control of the script but Tapestry is the work of screenwriter Tamio Hayashi and director Takahisa Zeze, two veterans of the Japanese film industry with over 30 credits each to their names. And with this movie, they’ve joined forces to produce one of the most realistic films ever. It’s almost like Tapestry is a movie that’s trying not to be a movie, rejecting all the familiar clichés and tropes. Ren fails to save Aoi. Aoi never gets an apology from her mom. Both of them fail to reconnect around the time when most movies would have their big romantic climax. It’s all just a series of stories of people failing, picking themselves up, then failing some more. Do you know what that’s called? That is called life.
In real life, you almost never get closure, and you rarely get to save the girl. In real life, a person you trusted totally may steal from you and you’ll have to rebuild your life from the ground up. In real life, stuff just happens at random without a nice, clean, discernable theme. Life is messy and often unpleasant. But you still push on, trying not to get swallowed by the past. It may hurt but you fight for the few good times you get along the way, and that’s what the movie ultimately focuses on.
It’s All There in the Song
The Japanese title of Tapestry was supposedly inspired by the song “Ito” by Miyuki Nakajima with lyrics about two threads coming together to make a tapestry that will “cover a wound.” It’s a (slightly melancholic) love song and it definitely fits a part of the movie. But it’s a very small part. Instead, the movie should have been called Fight after another Nakajima song that also makes an appearance in the movie.
“Fight” is about how life may kick you and people may hurt you but you should stand up and fight even if you don’t know that you will win. The song doesn’t promise any huge awards but is more of an anthem proclaiming that you will go on, if not by the prospect of something better on the horizon, then at least by sheer, stupid, beautiful human stubbornness.
That is Tapestry, a movie about ignoring the past and moving forward through the confusing and painful mess that is life without growing bitter or losing hope. Because only by focusing on the now will you be able to get to the few good things in life that eventually happen to us all, just like Ren and Aoi did (spoiler?) Life isn’t like a movie, but it doesn’t mean that happiness isn’t within your reach. And that’s just a great message to put out there.
Feature image: ©2020映画『糸』製作委員会