Does Your Soul Have a Cold?

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South By Southwest

AUSTIN -- Although it isn't the kind of critical investigation viewers may walk in expecting, Mike Mills' "Does Your Soul Have a Cold?" presents refreshingly sensitive, sympathetic portraits of Japanese youths suffering from clinical depression. It may not have the muckraking appeal that helps many docus at the boxoffice, but its lyrical depiction of a novel subject will be welcomed on the festival circuit and could find a niche in theatrical and small-screen exhibition.

After dramatizing a skeptical attitude toward mood-regulating pharmaceuticals in his feature debut "Thumbsucker," director Mills at first seems to have found a natural follow-up: In Japan, where the concept of depression as an illness didn't even exist a decade ago, cultural attitudes have been reinvented by the heavy-duty PR campaigns of American drug companies. Introductory titles, depicting corporations bent on popularizing a disease so they can sell its cure, indicate a critique of the ethics of drug advertising (the film's title was a widely used ad slogan); at the very least, the topic offers a unique sociological appeal.

Over the course of his interviews, though, Mills is so attuned to the micro that he largely abandons the macro. We meet individuals across the spectrum of depression, from those who are almost healthy to others on the verge of suicide. Mills is deeply curious about the daily rituals and lifestyle strategies each employs to cope with illness, and he questions subjects thoroughly about how their lives have changed since the widespread demystification of depression.

The characters aren't uniformly engaging. While Mills connects particularly well with a flamboyant S&M aficionado, whose sexual inclinations may both contribute to and help alleviate his difficulties relating to those around him, other subjects are so emotionally drained that they threaten to drag the film to a standstill.

Mills hints at a discomfort with the number of drugs these youths are being prescribed -- listing brand names and dosages, listening as they worry about life without them -- but never quite marshals these observations into a coherent point of view. Some viewers will be disappointed by the film's lack of clear polemics, seeing the occasional hard factoid as a tease and faulting Mills for an incoherent documentary perspective. Others, though, will intuit that the director's receptiveness to a subject's mood (and his knack, honed in his music-video career, for translating those moods into images) is valuable in itself, despite making him not particularly well suited to journalism.

DOES YOUR SOUL HAVE A COLD?
IFC /Netflix/Mabel Longhetti Group
Credits:
Director: Mike Mills
Producers: Callum Greene, Mike Mills, Takuo Yasuda
Executive producers: Alison Palmer Bourke, Christine Lubrano, Debbie Demontreux, Evan Shapiro
Directors of photography: James Frohna, D.J. Harder
Editor: Andrew Dickler
Running time -- 81 minutes
No MPAA rating
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