“WEST NORTH WEST” is a Japanese queer drama that explores themes of gender, sexuality, nationality, and religious identity

Set amongst the bustling crowds and underground karaoke clubs of Tokyo, WEST NORTH WEST explores themes of gender, sexuality, nationality, and religious identity through the complex desires of three women. The film is now featuring on PeccadilloPOD, a new On-Demand platform for LGBTQ+ cinema.  

Beautiful Kei (Hanae Kan) works at a cocktail bar, and her girlfriend Ai (Yuka Yamauchi) works as a model. Fearing she’ll be ostracized by society, Kei chooses not to admit her sexual orientation to anyone, and, as a result, she becomes distressed and lonely. One day, randomly in a café, Kei meets Naima, (Sahel Rosa) a very religious Iranian student studying art in Japan. Despite their vast cultural differences Kei and Naima begin to enjoy each other’s company. Passionate Ai quickly becomes jealous of them and their budding relationship. Kei gradually becomes pessimistic as she thinks about a future with Ai, and Ai worries that she will lose Kei. In the meantime, Naima is having a hard time understanding what Kei wants despite growing closer to her. All three of them are embarrassed and insecure but eventually, they begin to share their emotions.

Actor turned award-winning director, Takuro Nakumura’s feature film takes us on a slow journey through modern-day relationships in Tokyo. Dark and gloomy cinematography complements a melodrama told through dialogue, the actors’ expressions, and long silences rather than action-packed scenes. We follow the three young women as they tentatively navigate their way through their developing relationships with each other, often inconclusively. The slow-burn scenes are intimate and intriguing, and sometimes confusing, reflecting today’s life for many early 20 somethings who don’t fit into a stereotypical relationship box.

Sahel Rosa gives a very convincing performance as the studious, very religious, Iranian Naima who has never even worn make-up before she encounters the very sophisticated Japanese Kei. Hanae Kan (Kei) and Yuka Yamauchi (Ai) are also strong actors with great chemistry, and the three hold our attention for the two-hour running time of the film. Director Nakumura wants us to appreciate that ultimately there are actually only very small differences between characters of different sexualities and different cultural backgrounds. This he achieves. A good film for the long winter evenings right now.

Japanese with English subtitles