Tremble All You Want

***1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Tremble All You Want
"Matsuoka’s emotionally complicated performance anchors the film and keeps Yoshika interesting even at her most self-centred or self-abasing." | Photo: Fantasia Film Festival

Yoshika (Mayu Matsuoka) has loved just one person in her life: handsome and enigmatic high school classmate Ichi, with whom she spoke only a handful of times. She even took him as inspiration for the hero of a series of comics she drew. Now it’s ten years later and she finds herself wooed by a geeky, awkward work colleague whom she nicknames ‘Ni’ (making them ‘One’ and ‘Two’ in Japanese). It’s a thrill to receive such attention, but she’s about to encounter Ichi again. Which one will she choose/ And can either compete with her fantasy?

It sounds like the plot of a romantic comedy, and could easily be performed as such, but Akiko Ohku’s deliberately discomfiting film places real, complex characters into each of these roles and the result is not funny anymore. That’s not to say that there isn’t comedy here, but it’s more absurdist than bubbly. Yoshika’s playful moments, when the whole world seems to light up and celebrate her joy along with her, are quickly revealed as fantasies. Ni’s wacky behaviour evokes painful social embarrassment and the way it parallels Yoshika’s own obsession gradually forces her to acknowledge the problems with that. But the real problem goes much deeper.

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Yoshika’s crush isn’t just her only romantic experience – it’s the only real connection she has with anybody, crippled as she is by anxiety, which she works around where she has to by telling lies. Ni, for his part, may lack social skills, but his persistence reveals a sort of courage that she might do well to learn from. For his part, Ichi isn’t living the perfect life that she imagined, but is he the same person she fell for? Was he ever that person?

Tremble All You Want, which screened at this year's Fantasia, doesn’t present any easy answers. Even its ending is likely to divide viewers – does it represent a step forward towards healing or a simple surrender of ambition? There is implicit criticism of Japanese society and the pressure on young women to be married off by a certain age. Despite her isolation, Yoshika seems far from self-sufficient – even her fantasy is fragile and must be protected from the real world, rather than providing a source of strength. She’s curiously inexperienced when it comes to defending herself from unwanted advances, and colleagues eagerly support the idea that she should be grateful and appreciative. Is any consideration of her own desires inevitably to be consigned to the realm of fantasy?

Matsuoka’s emotionally complicated performance anchors the film and keeps Yoshika interesting even at her most self-centred or self-abasing. Challenging cinematic myths about the nature of romance and musing on the role of fantasy in day to day life, it’s an ambitious film which by and large succeeds in achieving its goals. It’s also a study of mental illness that will ring painfully true for many viewers.

Reviewed on: 13 Jul 2018
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Life becomes complicated when a young woman who has clung onto her unspoken love for a high school classmate for ten years meets him again - just after she's met somebody else.

Director: Akiko Ohku

Writer: Akiko Ohku

Starring: Anna Ishibashi, Takumi Kitamura, Mayu Matsuoka, Daichi Watanabe

Year: 2017

Runtime: 117 minutes

Country: Japan

Festivals:

Fantasia 2018

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