One of the most surprising and lesser-known box office hits of 2018, “I Go Gaga, My Dear” opened in one small Sapporo cinema and eventually expanded to 70 screens nationwide for over three months.
In this very personal documentary, the first theatrical feature of Naoko Nobutomo, the director chronicles the everyday routines of her nonagenarian parents in Nagasaki, as her mother struggles with Alzheimer’s-related dementia and her father tries to cope with both his wife’s condition and his own age troubles. Nobutomo spent many years recording footage of her parents and with the combination of the presentation of their life story as much as their relationship with her, manages to present a realistically dramatic, but also uncannily captivating portrait.
Her mother’s succumb to the disease and the consequences to both her (her constant lying down is the most obvious) and her husband (who, for the first time in his life has to deal with house chores) form the basis of the narrative, and gives the film its rather dramatic essence, with the scene where the two elderly fight as the mother wants to kill herself being the apogee of this part. However, there is also much beauty and happiness here. The story of her parents, their support when the director had to go through breast cancer are two of the most memorable samples. The scene that steals the show is the one when the mother yells “Banzai!”, as the SDF ships signal the beginning of the new year, which is also where the title of the documentary derives from. Furthermore, in the general dramatic setting, there is also much laughter, as both of the director’s parents and particularly the father have kept their sense of humor.
Through this approach, Nobutomo manages to avoid the reef of sentimentalism, while her own editing of the combination of different footage keeps the film entertaining for the whole of its 100 minutes, although this aspect does not mean the movie lacks in realism. On the contrary, it also functions as a rather thorough look at the lives of the elderly in Japan. The fact that she also included interactions with various individuals (caretakers, doctors, friends etc) also helps much in both regards, with the same applying to the tone of her own narrating voice.
“I Go Gaga, My Dear” reminded me much of Wang Bing’s “Mrs Fang”, but in a less dramatic-more entertaining-equally realistic fashion. An impressive documentary, overall.