Love at Least 生きてるだけで、愛  (2018) Director: Kosai Sekine

Love At Least    Love At Least Film Poster

生きてるだけで、愛 Ikiteru dakede Ai

Release Date: November 09th, 2018

Duration: 109 mins.

Director: Kosai Sekine

Writer: Kosai Sekine (Screenplay), Yukiko Motoya (Original Novel),

Starring: Shuri, Masaki Suda, Riisa Naka, Shizuka Ishibashi, Yutaka Matsushige, Naomi Nishida, Lisa Oda, Tetsushi Tanaka,

Website IMDB

The romance genre is strong in Japan where many filmmakers give many different and nuanced takes. There are the big-budget glossy works sourced from manga like We Were There (2012), while Rikiya Imaizumi has colonised the subject with gently wistful works like Over the Town (2020) and Just Only Love (2018). The anti-romance subgenre is especially strong. Grown-ups (2022) is where director Takuya Kato strives for documentary realism while playing with the audience’s conception of time while Yoko Yamanaka’s Amiko (2017) gives audiences gales of laughter thanks to its titular crackpot heroine losing her mind over love.

Making his debut with Love at Least, advertising director Kosine Sekine adapts Yukiko Motoya’s novel wherein mental illness marks the lives of its central couple. With the potential to be an anti-romance, it doles out darkness but avoids despair with glimpses of comedy and beautiful visuals that edify the hopeful and invigorating feeling that love can confer.

The story is a snapshot of the relationship between Yasuko (Shuri) and her boyfriend Tsunagi (Masaki Suda) who she lives with in Tokyo. Yasuko is a hikikomori because of her struggle with depression and her hypersomnia which means she has trouble staying awake during the day. She also has difficulty controlling her emotions and so she spends most days sleeping. Meanwhile, Tsunagi works as an editor for a gossip magazine. He seems like a supportive boyfriend who is patient and gentle with her behaviour but Yasuko senses indifference from his placative attitude which leaves her frustrated and so the relationship is put to the test when Tsunagi’s ex-girlfriend Ando (Riisa Naka) appears with plans to break up the couple by forcing Yasuko out of her room and into a job.

Love at Least Shuri and Riisa Naka,

The film has a simple storyline where, save for flashbacks that tell us how they met, we see the stress that happens to Yasuko and Tsunagi in the moment Ando intervenes in their uneasy cohabitation. Character interactions are tested by Yasuko’s struggles with mental health, consequently, one would expect melodrama but that is tempered by differing moods.

In a ways, there is something blackly comic in the madcap plan that scheming Ando comes up with (and Riisa Naka is superlative as the deranged obsessive character)  as she sets up employment at a café. Taking notes from real life, it is one of those places that offers a supportive environment for hikikomori and those struggling to integrate into society. Time spent here leavens Yasuko’s mental health problems at home which gradually uncovers her unique take on her interactions with Tsunagi.

Love at Least Masaki Suda and Shuri

Their character arcs initially seem to be running along the lines of representing contrapuntal story parallels: she struggles to control her emotions and has a desire to hide away from people while he needs to let loose and has a job where he intrudes in private lives. However, they intersect in the climactic third act of the film as each character reaches a crisis, Yasuko pushed to the edge of endurance and, perhaps most surprisingly pushes Tsunagi to address how he engages with her.

From the outside, he seems fine but Yasuko senses something is off in his niceness. It can be said that he is sinking into a depression of his own which, quite interestingly, comes from being ground down by his struggles with a dead-end and morally dubious career and also his inability to express himself. While Yasuko’s mental health maladies conform to more glossier movie-made type, there is a quiet strain of realism in his quiet journey of enduring general disappointment.

And so we come to what love means for each as a symbiotic relationship is discovered, Yasuko needing Tsunagi to absorb her feelings while he experiences the thrill of life through her.

Single-named lead actress Shuri offers a good performance that can shoot up the audience’s anxiety levels with bouts of aggression in everyday situations. She also shows her character’s struggle with inner darkness and pulls on audience heartstrings with plaintive monologues where she brings out her inner damage to the text. Her line. “Just living tires me out,” aches with suffering.

Masaki Suda is a good foil for her to work off as he absorbs the emotional tension with his patient demeanour. Such a demeanour can be seen as cruel indifference and tiredness over their situation but it also signals self defence and he catches this balance and that helps work in conjunction with Shuri’s performance to make the central romance at the heart of this film worthwhile.

Love at Least Shuri and Masaki Suda

The final mood twist in this film comes from the visuals where the use of light and dark to plunge Yasuko into panics. Colours come into play as Tsunagi’s clothes are muted to suggest a lack of emotion and they match the muted tones of the apartment that suggest the inescapable feeling of dull days. At times he is bathed in blue lighting to suggest his emotional coldness. The red street lighting that flares up around Yasuko when she is in the darkness or from the clothes Yasuko wears suggest the passion that exists in her. At its the film’s most crucial point it suggests an emotion of love she senses from Tsunagi and it is in these moments that she comes alive as she knows that, however hard life might be, she has love at least.

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