息ぎれの恋人たち 「Ikigire no koibito-tachi」
Running Time: 20 mins.
Director: Shumpei Shimizu
Writer: Shumpei Shimizu (Screenplay)
Starring: Kaito Yoshimura, Fusako Urabe, Daisuke Kuroda, Atsushi Shinohara
Breathless Lovers is the latest work from Shumpei Shimizu. It came into the festival with positive word of mouth, something to be expected from someone who has been educated at Tokyo University of the Arts. Indeed, his career features a directorial debut, Fuzakerun Janeeyo (2014), produced by Shinji Aoyama and work Martin Scorsese’s film, Silence. Shimizu’s short explores a pathological relationship between a man and the ghost of his lover.
The story concerns Toshiyuki, a 23-year-old guy who recently lost his boyfriend Tatsuya in a motorcycle accident. While he physically survived the accident, Toshyuki has been mentally wounded and is unable to ride or drive any vehicles. If he needs to go anywhere, he walks or runs and he does this despite having asthma. To try and connect with Tatsuya, Toshiyuki visits the boxing gym his ex-lover used to train at and performs the same emotionally and physically draining routines over and over as he follows the ghost of Tatsuya. Throughout the film, Toshiyuki is constantly breathless from his desperate attempts to connect with Tatsuya whose lifeless corpse… well, you get the picture. These are two of the breathless lovers of the title.
Someone who is holding her breath (just to run with the analogy) is Tatsuya’s resentment-filled mother, Chieko, who has travelled the best part of a day from Hiroshima to Tokyo to meet Toshiyuki for the anniversary of her son’s death. She stoically goes through the motions and polite formalities expected by society but this year will be different. Chieko has cut her hair short after their last meeting and has kept it that way. When Toshiyuki sees her, he feels like he is seeing his former lover. The two mourn in their own way and the rocks of sorrow begin to shift under the weight of resentment and empty passion as their shared mourning takes a predictable turn.
The film’s strongest aspect is the atmosphere created on screen. It is harsh, bitter. Shimizu depicts Tokyo as a choking cauldron of bleak and claustrophobic urban spaces made rather forbidding by a soundscape comprised of clanking construction work and constant traffic. Katsumi Yanagijima’s cinematography is strong in this film. His use of high contrast film to emphasise the blacks of the shadowy areas like underpasses and claustrophobic apartments with whites of the lighting in places like the boxing gym and the use of jump cuts to suggest Toshiyuki’s fragmented and desperately muddled psyche.
The story is told very well and benefits from being as spartan and short as it is, letting the audience do a lot of the thinking and connection of themes. Kaito Yoshimura and Fusako Urabe’s acting are pitch-perfect. Snatches of dialogue show the mind states of the central characters and their committed performances deliver the raw emotions. The film takes on an unpredictable and ambiguous ending that could have fit in with a film like Shinya Tsukamoto’s Tokyo Fist (1995) and anything that could fit in with that film is worth watching, in my opinion.