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The Tokyo International Film Festival handed out its audience award Monday to Japanese director Akiko Ohku’s for her latest feature Hold Me Back, a socially astute comedy about the romantic struggles of a Japanese woman entering her early thirties.
The audience award is the only prize the Tokyo festival is presenting this year, after the international jury competition had to be scrapped in response to the novel coronavirus pandemic. Hold Me Back won out over 31 other films that were screened in the festival’s “Tokyo Premiere” section, which replaced the usual competition selection and two other strands.
Ohku previously won Tokyo’s audience award in 2017, for her breakthrough rom-com Tremble All You Want.
Based on Risa Wataya’s award-winning Japanese novel of the same title, Hold Me Back was dubbed by the festival as a “hilarious, often insightful visualization of the inner struggles of working women in modern-day Tokyo.”
The film stars Rena Nounen (who also goes by the stage name Non) as Mitsuko, a 31-year-old woman who’s been single for many years. Slightly delusional and extremely fearful of intimacy, she is dependent on an imaginary friend in her brain, named A (for Answer), through which her desires, fears and trauma are expressed. When she meets a younger man (Kento Hayashi) who sparks a long dormant interest in romantic connection, Mitsuko is plunged into combat against herself, torn between her sudden desires and staying within her comfort zone.
The film was praised at for its light touch in addressing the social reality of pervasive singledom and loneliness among many young people in Japan.
Produced by Nikkatsu, Hold Me Back is expected to be released theatrically in Japan in December.
The 2020 Tokyo International Film Festival ran Oct. 31 to Nov. 9. The festival screened 138 films (down from 180 in 2019), with relatively light COVID-19 restrictions, a reflection of Japan’s effectiveness in suppressing the virus. The festival closed Monday night with the world premiere of Hokusai, director Hajime Hashimoto’s biopic of the great Japanese printmaker.
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