‘I Am What I Am’— Essential Interpersonal Cinema

[Japan Cuts 2023]

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4 min readMar 5, 2024

Shinya Tamada’s I Am What I Am is a tender journey. The film covers Kasumi Sobata’s (Toko Miura) journey of self discovery, making the path easier for viewers like her who may also struggle to take those first steps. It opens on a double date between some guys and Kasumi, accompanied by her sister Natsumi (Naki Sakai). Things get awkward for her date when he presses forward in asking her out to a movie after an amusing exchange about the way Tom Cruise runs in War of the Worlds.

Kasumi doesn’t miss these cues but instead meets them with confusion and doesn’t engage with them, asking why this person wants to be alone with her just to see a movie. Kasumi is aromantic and doesn’t experience the feelings of affection we attribute to traditional relationships, and we are learning this about her just as she is. In the middle of this, her mother constantly gets in her face about meeting someone and getting married, picking apart and analyzing nearly everything she does that strikes her as out of the ordinary.

Kasumi and the Sobata family. Still courtesy of Japan Society.

Kasumi’s father, Junichi (Hiroki Miyake), on the other hand, is far more free-spirited and sympathetic to how she chooses to live her life. He seems to know not to push her–she’ll get to where she wants to be anyhow. He can almost always be found doing something away from her mother and sister. Perhaps to get away from them, but really maybe to focus on his relationship with Kasumi and their private confident exchanges. In either case, he casts himself aloof from his wife’s world, in which she is convinced everyone else lives in.

Kasumi is dragged into this world early on; her mother sets a meeting with a bachelor and his mother in the hopes they will fall in love and get engaged. But the boy Kasumi’s mother puts her romantic faith in shares Kasumi’s disinterest in the dated custom, and they strike up a friendship instead after she finds out he runs her favorite ramen shop. He ends up sending her signals of romance that she becomes confused by and cannot act on, instead becoming uncomfortable during his advances.

Still courtesy of Japan Society.

Kasumi works at a call center and has seen no reason to change her situation, but after reuniting with an old friend, she starts working with him at a preschool. They confide in each other. Kasumi finding it a comfort to tell him things about her she’s just now realizing about herself after he comes out to her. The most dramatic part of the coming out process is the entire lead-up for Kasumi, waiting until she feels comfortable telling someone else this sensitive thing about her. The experience also equips her with the confidence to navigate future relationships, and a chance encounter with an old classmate of hers sees Kasumi exercising her newfound definitions for herself.

A solution arises here where there could have been an issue; Kasumi comes out as both aromantic and asexual, taking care to help us understand how the two are different. The film understands this too and never conflates romantic acts with sexual desire. It’s an extremely positive thing to see in representation of asexuality or aromanticism anywhere, and Miura’s performance suggests some level of familiarity with the subject which makes it so sympathetic and warm. Kasumi’s classmate, Maho (Atsuko Maeda), provides the most supportive relationship for her. Once the preschool assigns a project to create a video to tell the kids a story, Kasumi chooses Maho to narrate the story of Cinderella. Maho knows how the story betrays Kasumi’s experience, and he convinces her to create a different Cinderella story where people like her will feel seen and supported.

Toko Miura and Atsuko Maeda in I Am What I Am. Still courtesy of Japan Society.

I Am What I Am has a lot of positivity for its audience, even in a misunderstanding and uncaring world for those who don’t fit the popular mold. Opposites don’t attract universally for everyone, especially people like Kasumi; they can bring out the best in yourself because they challenge you in ways you yourself cannot. Toko Miura’s performance is like a warm blanket, and Tamada’s directing is just as engaging as it is sensitive. It’s a sentiment this reviewer holds that the film enlightens without ever feeling heavy-handed and may even help those relating to Kasumi’s awakening. It’s an enthralling watch and an essential piece of interpersonal cinema.

I Am What I Am will screen at Japan Cuts courtesy of Japan Society on July 28, 2023.

Director: Shinya Tamada
Writer: Atsushi Asada
Rated: NR
Runtime: 105m

Thank you for reading!
This article was originally published July 26th, 2023 on Geek Vibes Nation.