The Special Shelf: Together Together + Queer Japan

Right at the end of January, tucked away in the Sundance Film Festival’s offerings, something snuck up on me. Even now, as the community dances a weird combination of forward and backward steps in the baroque dance of civil rights and social acceptance, it’s hard to stop and catch a breath. There’s always some fundamentalist or homophobe trying to unknit every stitch in the social fabric, so there’s barely any time to appreciate victories won in the battle for equality and representation. Which makes this low-key platonic romantic comedy Together Together (coming later this year from Bleecker Street Films) such a pleasant find—like a particularly delicious candy plucked from what you fear is an already plundered Whitman’s Sampler. Writer/Director Nikole Beckwith has pulled off a major achievement, because any time a film this genial and unthreatening can get its targeted (mainstream) audience to rethink some of their prejudices about family, that’s a good thing.

Anna (Patti Harrison) has found a pretty good gig as a surrogate for Matt (Ed Helms, of The Office and The Hangovers). He’s a retired app developer who always wanted to start a family, she’s looking to bankroll a Master’s degree, and between the two of them, there’s going to be an interesting kid brought into the world in the quirkiest of circumstances. To a certain extent, Together Together could almost be a Lifetime film; that’s how easy and pleasant it is. But it’s also going to rewire some synapses in a way that is going to benefit society (and the queer community) in the future, and not just because of a scathingly sage two-scene turn from modern comic genius Julio Torres (Los Espookys, My Favorite Shapes, SNL). Harrison’s is a performance for the ages, building on the work she’s put in on Shrill, Search Party, and I Think You Should Leave and creating a portrait of an expectant mother unlike any of the millions of pregnant moms we’ve seen in the movies before.

I’m also in awe of filmmaker Graham Kolbeins’ documentary Queer Japan (streaming on Video On Demand and available on DVD and Blu-ray from Altered Innocence), because it does something I wouldn’t have imagined possible. Working in the idiom of the queer experience in Japan, there’s hardly an issue confronting the LGBTQIA community that isn’t addressed in some capacity—and that’s a staggering achievement. If you’ve ever been part of any sort of civic action community, or activist collective, or even a writer’s workshop, you are well acquainted with how stressful it can be to find equity amongst the many issues that come from gathering a group of folk together.

Sexual health and expression, innovative and transgressive art (enby artist Saeborg and their work with the Department H fetishtravaganza is going to occupy your mind for a while after seeing this film), the history of HIV/AIDS education and awareness, bar culture and its place, the oppressive legal battles that the Japanese trans* community are facing, the evolution of the sometime contentious relationship between the Shibuya lesbian and transmasc populations, the corporatization of pride, youth outreach, winning snarky battles against homophobes in public forums – every time you think “this film is doing an amazingly comprehensive job at covering the community’s issues,” along comes another pivot and you’re left stunned. If Kolbeins ever tired of filmmaking, I would happily welcome their work as a community organizer, because the many bases of the queer community get covered.

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