iSugio

Permanent Nobara – Review

by Danielle Sullivan

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Naoko has returned home with her daughter Momo after separating from her first husband. She now lives with her mother Masako, helping out at her salon; the only salon in the village and a resting ground for the local ladies, whose tongues are as barbed as their wire-brush perms. Naoko’s love interest, the bizarre characters in the village, and other general goings on unfold.

In Permanent Nobara, the recently divorced Naoko and her young daughter Momo move back to the quirky fishing village where she grew up. Living at home with her mother and helping out at the family salon, Naoko is surrounded by the middle-aged regular customers that can be found hanging around the salon and getting their perms redone while they talk about men and sex. They unabashedly share their stories about raunchy sexual encounters, even referring to some of these men by describing their genitalia. The women are comedically exaggerated; their brightly colored and tightly permed hair and bawdy attitudes make the much younger Naoko seem more mature in their company. When one of them asks if Naoko has met anyone new, she tells them that she hasn’t, even though she has been dating her former high school professor on the sly. The film follows life-long friends Naoko, Mi-chan, and Tomo-chan. It focuses on their stories of love, loss, and moving on.

Permanent Nobara is not your typical Japanese drama; its heavy subject matter contrasts the often-hilarious antics of the townspeople. Director Daihachi Yoshida uses a beautiful fishing village as a backdrop for gaudy characters, creating a distinction that brings these somewhat exaggerated people down to earth. Playing with the viewer’s sense of reality permits for the suspension of disbelief, providing the framework for an ambiguous finale. An example of this occurs in a flashback where Mi-chan is attempting to run over her husband’s lover. The absurdity of the rampage is accented with Spanish guitar and reddish tones, which light the scene courtesy of neon signs. The dramatic scene could have been momentarily confused for camp, tricking the viewer into thinking that they are watching a dream sequence. However, once the scene reaches its climax, the music and lighting suddenly disappears, unveiling a disturbing reality. The visuals in this scene play on the exaggerated emotional states of the characters, simultaneously showing irrationality and decisiveness; a demonstration of the complications of love.

Naoko, portrayed by actress Miho Kanno, is a complicated character in spite of her plain appearance. In the midst of colorful characters, it appears that the escape from her hometown was meant to be and that her return will be temporary, as she is meant for bigger things. Needless to say, there is something about her that doesn’t quite fit in. Miho Kanno does a brilliant job of portraying Naoko’s many sides. She is a character who comes off as mature in the presence of the others, and immature when with Kashima, her love interest. Their relationship is as confusing as the secrecy that surrounds it. The balance of power between the pair shifts quickly during conversations that appear to have little depth and their tender interactions boarder on childish, with stolen kisses and piggyback rides. Is this just puppy love or is their something more that is preventing this pair from taking flight? The answers to these questions are not obvious.

On its surface, Permanent Nobara is about love, but the true meaning of the film lies not in the romantic relationships themselves, but in the way that these women cope with love and loss, and who they become as a result of it. They long for true love, but end up being hurt again and again: Naoko is recovering from a failed marriage, Mi-chan is in the midst of a tumultuous separation from her husband, Tomo-chan’s husband has gone missing. Every woman in the town seems to be having problems with men; even Naoko’s mother is waiting for her husband to return to her. Through these ordeals, comedic overtones ridicule the pains of love, yet the director manages to empathize with these women. The title, Permanent Nobara is also the name of the salon and refers to the nobara perm hairdo; which can be translated as ‘permanent wild-rose’. The film could be asking whether women must harden themselves, like the tightly wound coils that adorn the heads of the customers at the salon, in order to be happy. It seems that until they can be free from love, they will be hurt by it, again and again. And yet, they keep loving in spite of this. Even the older women who delight in objectifying men are not exceptions. Mi-chan sums it up best, “If you are (insane), then so is every woman in this place. You’re fine. We women lived enough for others. From now on, we should live as we wish.” Perhaps the nobara perm is actually a symbol for the difficulties that these women have endured; the coils are hard after they have been trained into place, but remain beautiful, like wild roses.

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Author: Danielle Sullivan

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