Something that’s akin to Ruby Sparks, but with much more flamboyancy, Bitter Honey sees Fumi Nikaido star in her second outing for the festival this year, as Akako, a young goldfish that has the ability to take human form. Akako is the pet / object of desire for an elderly writer (Ren Osugi). Akako is only new to human form it seems, so has a child-like curiosity about life, and a naivety that comes with it. When a deceased ex lover, Yuriko (Yoko Maki) comes back as a ghost, things get even stranger as ‘Daddy’ – as he’s affectionately called by Akako, refuses to acknowledge her existence, but is this all a strange and fanciful reality, or just a final tall-tale within the mind of an old writer?
Bitter Honey is a surrealistic take on the love affairs of a writer between a goldfish, his ex lover and a young war widow. The film is set around a decade after the war has ended and it’s as stylistic and vibrant as it is complex. Ren Osugi battles with a difficult balance of making the old writer contemptible but also sympathetically human. Fumi Nikaido is allowed more free reign to really let her ability shine through here as the utterly whimsical Akako and, as her character blossoms and matures on screen, so does her portrayal as she delivers a confident performance of a young woman dealing with love and betrayal. Nikaido shines bright on screen with her vibrant performance as the young women who grows more independent from the sexually-driven desires of her lover and begins to want more for her own life.
Bitter Honey effortlessly shifts from one tone to the next and, with it, keeps the audience on their toes. While impressive, it can also be the film’s downfall. Once it leaves behind the more energetic, animated elements of the film, it just begins to grate on you. While the actors continue to raise their performances as the story dictates, the melodramatic shift drains the film of its energy up until that point. It’s an unexpected and disappointing turn to what was, up until that point, a riot of a film.