Review: Sensei, Would You Sit Beside Me? (NYAFF 2021)

by Matthew Edward Hawkins

You can’t have a summer blockbuster season, even in the midst of COVID (yes, I am going to mention the pandemic in basically every single review, you’re all just going to have to deal with it) without a comic movie, so courtesy of New York Asian Film Festival 2021 comes Sensei, Would You Sit Beside Me? Based upon a manga, as noted, the film centers upon Sawako, who happens to produce manga. She’s aided by her assistant Toshio, himself a manga-ka as well, though he hasn’t Plus he’s also having an affair with Sawako’s editor, something his wife discovers very early on.

When an accident befalls her mother, Sawako must head back home, with cheating husband in tow, out of pure necessity; since mom lives outside of Tokyo, the only way to get around is via car, and only Toshio knows how to drive. So on top of dealing with her mother’s recovery and her husband’s infidelity and getting to work on a brand new manga, Sawako must also obtain a license, which ends up being the biggest challenge of them all. Another struggle is how Sawako’s editor (again, whom Toshio is cheating with) is less than impressed with the pitch for the next story, which is something fantasy driven. Hence the decision to pivot towards something autobiographical, that being the anxieties that come with learning how to drive. Oh, and she also includes something many others can also related with: a cheating partner. Inevitably, Toshio helps himself to a sneak peak of the first few pages of his wife’s new story and freaks out, because he assumed his affair was successfully on the down-low. Even worse is the revelation is that Sawako’s driving instructor is a hot young dude.

The usage of manga pages within the narrative, to illustrate off screen events as well as inform characters that were not present, is superbly executed; there’s nothing like the commonly found trope in Japanese cinema of a character exuding pathos, wanting to say something but won’t allow themselves to, but in this instance the cause for confrontation is not pages from a diary that were sneakily read but WIP manga panels that said individual may have to realize to completion because that’s literally his job. Also, seeing the new boy toy, as interpreted via her line work, also adds a whole new dimension to the drama, which is further enhanced by the exceptionally strong performances. Even if the summer box office this year was business as usual, meaning there were a ton of Marvel movies to contend with, I would still state in full confidence that Sensei, Would You Sit Beside Me? was the best comic book movie this season. At the very least, it’s my pick thus far for film of NYAFF 2021.

Sensei, Would You Sit Beside Me? is being screened on Sunday August 15, 7:00pm, at the SVA Theatre; you can find the link to purchase a ticket here.

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