“I never heard you open up like that before.”
“I hardly ever do.”
As the velocity of our global economy increases, we will see more of its accompanying symptoms. The rise in demands in many fields of work and service has led to a vast variety of consequences from a re-definition of our global work culture, but also in the way we deal with the inevitable sicknesses such as burn-out and depression. Even though many cultures may idealize the lonely, diligent worker, this image has become problematic regarding issues of physical and mental health. Considering today even primary school children have to take medication in order to be able to handle the pressures of school and their homes, defines quite clearly of the persistent damage we inflict on ourselves and others maintaining this image of the worker who never complains and delivers his/her services with a smile.
In general, Japan has always been a country idealizing the lonely, often male worker. In an article written by James Gates for Culture Trip, he speaks of the worker who exhausts himself/ herself for a job is seen as the “norm”. Speaking about these issues, about depression and exhaustion, is still a social taboo despite many efforts to support people affected. In fact, many rather shut themselves in, exclude themselves from the company of others rather than seek help for their conditions. The phenomenon of these so-called “hikikomori” is at the center of Kosei Sekine’s film “Love At Least” which shows the difficulties of breaking the vicious circle of depression and returning to the world outside.
Overall, life has really taken a toll on Yasuko (Shuri). Suffering from depression and hypersomnia, she spends most of her days in bed and texting with her older sister who tells her about finally getting a job. Meanwhile her boyfriend Tsunaki (Masaki Suda) seems quite indifferent to her behavior as he endures her mood swings and indirectly supports her staying in their little apartment. Working for a gossip magazine, a job he hates, he has accepted the routine at home and at his job as well as their obligatory dinners consisting of bentos every day.
However, Yasuko becomes increasingly frustrated with Tsunaki’s apparent indifference and her sister’s constant demands to get a job. Eventually she meets Ando (Riisa Naka) who manages to get her a job working part-time at a nearby cafe, a scheme to break up the couple and get back with Tsunaki.
In general, “Love At Least” blends elements of drama and romance, thus creating an engaging, at times thought-provoking narrative about the way we deal with the issues presented in the film. For example, after a long debate about a lead story – a repulsive article featuring nudity and sex – Tsunaki meets his co-worker, a writer named Misato (Shizuka Ishibashi) in the roof of the office building where they work. Following the publication of an article a while back we have learned early on about a person having committed suicide because of its nature and the images it featured. Frustrated by Tsunaki’s lack of emotional response to what has happened, she is, like Yasuko too, appalled by how he still continues doing this job without giving a thought to what consequences their words might lead to.
Even though it sometimes borders on the stereotypical, the world surrounding the main character often blurs the line between the depressed and the “normal”. People such as Ando or Tsunaki’s boss aim to profit from the weakness and the silence of others whereas exposing their own disturbed nature. One might be impatient with the lack of motivation and commitment from Yasuko, but then again her exhaustion stems from this lack of understanding as well as the exploitative nature of the world outside. The repeated images of her lying in bed surrounded by piles of clothes, junk and (often ineffective) alarm clocks may define a kind of protective layer.
Nevertheless, the main focus of Sekine’s film lies within the dramatic aspects where the film clearly succeeds. Besides Toyotaro Shigemori’s thoughtful cinematography, much of the appeal of “Love At Least” has to do with Shuri’s central performance. The intense physicality and emotionality of her scenes are strongly reminiscent of the characters Gena Rowlands played in, for example, “A Woman Under the Influence” or Sakura Ando on “100 Yen Love”.
In the end, “Love At Least” is a film about the ties of depression and the possibility of escaping them. Supported by a great cast and good cinematography, Kosei Sekine’s film will undoubtedly stick with its viewer for a long time, challenging our view on sickness and weakness while emphasizing how important showing understanding and love is in order for characters like Yasuko to heal.
Gates, James (2018) The Cold of the Soul: Depression in Japan. https://theculturetrip.com/asia/japan/articles/a-cold-of-the-soul-depression-in-japan/, last accessed on: 05/22/2019