Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Tue Aug 17, 2021 7:09 pm 
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AKIKO OHKU: HOLD ME BACK 私をくいとめて(2020) - 2021 New York Asian Film Festival (Aug. 6-22)



Taking it slow

Adapted from the novel by Risa Wataya, this movie is about a young Tokyo woman on the far side of her twenties called Mitsuko (Nun) who has not been dating for a while. She talks to an imaginary man she calls A for "answer." Below her apartment lives someone who practices Khoomei, or Tuvan throat singing. She has a best friend at work, Nozomu San (Asami Usuda), and a childhood friend, Satsuki (Ai Hashimoto), who she goes to visit in Rome. And she has Tada (Kento Hayashi), a shy, lonely single of the opposite sex she knows from work. "Tada kun," as she addresses him, like a pal, starts to come over once a week, but only to collect a dinner she makes for him, without coming in, the only connection they have so far been able to arrange. One evening he finally comes in to consume the meal, only to leave immediately after doing so. (I was bothered by the fact that Hayashi is three years older than Nun and looks it, while Tada is supposed to be two years younger. Since they made an issue of it, it might have been better to find an actor who looked younger, not older, than Nun.)

The film is a quirky, sometimes fantastic, look at the phenomenon of singularity and loneliness among Japanese young people who may sometimes lack, or feel they lack, the wherewithal or even the courage to date, let alone to marry. Mark Shilling, of The Japan Times, compares the star, Nun (Rena Nounen), to Marilyn Monroe, because she seems to have a childlike, spontaneous femininity. For ten seconds I thought of Diane Keaton. Mitsuko doesn't have as many options. She plans spa visits and restaurant dinners to do on her own. And she goes to Rome to see that old friend, Satsuki, by herself: we see her through a somewhat troublous flight, with much turbulence and little sleep. It's really Rome, and Satsuki's Italian in-laws are there, all speaking Italian.

When Mitsuko and Satsuki have some quiet time together they share memories and nostalgia of younger days. Satsuki, who is pregnant, assures Mitsuko that despite her supposed bravery in marrying an Italian and moving to Rome, her world is even more confined than Mitsuko's. As Satsuki, Ai Hashimoto makes her appear an extraordinarily poised and beautiful woman, but she makes it clear that keeping it together is not that easy. In the trip to Rome one has the strongest sense of Mitsuko actually doing something, and this is the segment of the film that seems most real. However, it is an elaborate way of developing the usual rom-com "girlfriends" thread, taking the actual rom-com nowhere. Perhaps this explains why this film with so few characters and events runs to over two hours.

In the event, back in Tokyo Mitsuko texts her way to renewed contact with Tada, though whether he or "A" matters most to her remains somewhat uncertain. She is afraid of being abandoned by her imaginary friend, in case her boyfriend doesn't become that. But on a double date for a Valentine's Day climb of the Tokyo Tower with Nozomu San and her crush, the colorfully dressed Carter (Japanese-American actor Takuya Wakabayashi), who she's finally landed a date with, Tada proposes that he and Mitsuko officially date. Later they go to a hotel with a double bed - spoiler alert - but don't kiss, and don't undress: Tada wants to "take it slow."

They sure do. This reminded me of Emmanuel Moiret's 2007 Un baiser, si'l vous plaît? (R-V 2008), a French rom-com where a lot of discussion takes place about whether to kiss. This concern seemed amusingly old-fashioned. In Japan perhaps circumstances predetermine shyness to a greater extent.

Hold Me Back 私をくいとめて, 133 mins., debuted at Tokyo Nov. 5, 2020 (Audience Award); Japan theatrical release Dec. 18; Helsinki Apr. 2021, Taiwan theatrical release Apr. 2021; Toronto (Japanese Film Festival, internet), Jun. 2021; Shanghai, Udine, Jun.; Montreal (Fantasia) Aug. 5; screened for this review as part of NY Asian Film Festival (Aug. 6-22).

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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