ARISTOCRATS (original title SHE IS NOBLE) is an anti-romcom decked out in the trappings of a romance film. The action is set in a city of opportunity, where two women chase their dreams against societal and family expectation. Gentle strings and piano swell under each new adventure, often undertaken by bicycle. And yet, finding love is the source of all ills, and class divides are keenly felt (if ultimately underexplored). This combination sets ARISTOCRATS apart from the standard young adult self-discovery narrative, but its cinematic trappings and optimistic heart evoke nostalgia for the graceful type of growing up only seen on film.
For Hanako (Mugi Kadowaki), living on her family’s wealth, the one goal is finding a suitable match following a broken engagement. Scenes cut rapidly between dates and focus tightly on her face, capturing not a whirlwind romance but a mad dash for security and respectability. Miki (Kiko Mizuhara), working her way from hostess to entrepreneur, uses her modest surroundings and university studies to define herself on her own terms. She is filmed with similar adrenaline, though the wider shots and fewer cuts centre her in the life she created for herself, showcasing her increased self-assurance.
As Hanako learns the ropes of a second high society engagement to replace her broken one, Miki establishes herself on the events circuit. The women become unlikely acquaintances through a mutual connection and somewhat unlikely plot twist. That said, it is hard to begrudge a film this optimistic at heart for a bit of magical coincidence. The film finds its joy when the ladies from opposite worlds find each other, and (along with respect for their differing circumstances and choices) find a new lens to view their lives and decisions. This quasi-romcom framing – and especially the charming score – for the film warms the heart and affirms their youthful invincibility. The patriarchy truly has no chance.
That said, class and financial security feature superficially in ARISTOCRATS but are never mined beyond shock at the price of afternoon tea, the hushed backbiting and gossip at an otherwise stoic family gathering, or the career expectations of a yet-unborn grandchild. Unfortunately, using all this as mere set dressing limits the film’s impact, setting it apart in a fantasy universe where all can be overcome with pluck and hard work. On this note, ARISTOCRATS may overly romanticise the freedom of the “out-crowd” and working-class hustles – a weak message in today’s perilous gig-based economy.
But victories over sexist microaggressions and stifling expectations in setting one’s own path have a long tradition in cinema. Even if ARISTOCRATS somewhat squanders its premise, it is prime escapism with a huge heart.