Hold Your Breath Like a Lover
息を殺して 「Iki wo Koroshite」
Release Date: June 20th, 2015
Running Time: 85 mins.
Director: Kohei Igarashi
Writer: Kohei Igarashi (Screenplay),
Starring: Ran Taniguchi, Goichi Mine, Yusuke Inaba, Koji Harada, Tomomitsu Adachi, Ran Arai, Rina Tanaka, Yuki Inagaki
This has been a film that has haunted me ever since I first saw the trailer back in 2014 and it was one of the films I was hoping to find in 2020. Well, I did. I ended up viewing it a couple of times. My initial impressions from the trailer was that this felt like it had “shades of Pulse (2001)” and an “apocalypse angle” but it turned out to be something else entirely, a subtle, gorgeous and melancholy take on the anxiety felt on the path of adulthood and a gradual maturation of its characters. It’s story is simple, perfect for allowing the powerful atmospherics to wash over me and pull me along.
The film takes place a couple of days after Christmas, 2017. The Christmas period is traditionally a time of year when you gather together with loved ones, share gifts and love and maybe some supernatural stories, a few melancholy moments over people gone, opportunities lost and time faded and also resolve to do better in the future in the hope of a symbolic rebirth. Perhaps it can be seen as the point where the threshold between past and future is most acutely felt. Instead of going home and spending time doing any of those things with others, however, a small selection of staff at a recycling centre/factory in Yokohama are lingering together after a night shift.
The skeleton crew keeping the lights on include 20-somethings like Tani (Ran Taniguchi), a gloomy office lady, and two workers, laidback Ken (Yusuke Inaba) and his survival-game-obsessed friend Gou (Goichi Mine) who roams around clad in combat gear. There are a couple of middle-aged colleagues too, such as Yana (Koji Harada), a divorcee who valiantly tries to fix up Christmas decorations, and Adachi (Tomomitsu Adachi), a man who seems like he is on the fast track for divorce after his wife has discovers he is being unfaithful. As the new year approaches, the factory becomes haunted by ghosts of people they knew and members of the team show what has united them in staying put: fears that they carry in their hearts over their uncertain futures.
The film’s plot is simple and just revolves around observing the characters, those 20 somethings who show reluctance to commit to tackling big questions in their lives, the sort that all adults must confront at some point. At first, you can write off their behaviour as the heavy-limbed tiredness from working long hours but the more we observe them and listen to their dialogue, the more we learn about their lives inside and outside of the factory and see that they are afflicted by anxiety and sadness and that by remaining at the factory half-heartedly working they are avoiding responsibilities like teens tarrying on the playground long into the dusk rather than going home and doing their homework.
The characters here spend their time in the gloomy cavernous halls of the factory, playing video games, and just hanging out on another night shift and talking about nothing in particular until they are confronted by something and let their fears come out. For Ken we see his qualms in committing to his pregnant girlfriend Mi-chan who waits for him, Gou grapples with mortality as felt with the appearance of ghosts, one of whom also has meaning for Tani who struggles to let go of her feelings for a co-worker as well as her sadness over the loss of her father. However, with the approach of the new year, letting go of dreams and taking on responsibilities becomes an inevitability.
The principal strength of the film is its atmospherics, as created by the mise-en-scene, as they colour in the dialogue and actions which are full of resistance to the slow pull of responsibilities that drags adults closer towards committing to something, to ageing, and dying.
The central location, the factory, is itself a liminal space that acts as the perfect playground for the emotional transitions of the characters who are on the threshold of maturity. Empty of people and with low-lighting from being shot at night, it is made unfamiliar, eerie, perfect for being haunted by ghosts. Due to the blocky architecture of such a place which favours function over form, the characters are often framed in interesting ways that uses the geometry of corridors, computer servers, pillars and staircases. At times, the architecture feels like it accentuates a haunted atmosphere, at other times it emphasises loneliness. It always suggests that the characters are in the process of moving and matches their emotional state.
It’s all resolved for most of workmates in a haunting slow-burn drama where they slowly acknowledge the need to move on and confront what emotionally ails them and fully face the anxiety they have in their heart. Their moving on is symbolised at the end with the characters greeting the new year and walking out into the sunshine. It is most poignantly felt in Tani’s character arc as she embraces and dances with her father, letting go of her gloominess and, perhaps, openly mourning properly for the first time.
As an adult, all of this rang true for me as these are emotions that I feel and so the film was quite moving for me. The slow pacing was perfect, the imagery beautiful and I felt a story of maturation that I could identify with even as the way everything is filmed are made unfamiliar. And, yes, this qualifies as a Christmas film since it takes place during the Christmas period and features a sense of rebirth.