Hold Me Back (2020) - Akiko Ohku
Instilled with a playful demeanor and a distinct formal style that deploys surrealistic flourishes and a touch of magical realism, Akiko Okhu's Hold Me Back is such an acute study of consciousness, delivering a rapturously effective study of the complexities of identity. As individuals, we try and find a sense of belonging with ourselves against the external effects that sculpt our experience, and what Hold Me Back achieves so beautifully is the continuous nature of personal growth. Oscillations between melancholy and jubilation are intrinsic to living, and through this infectious, playful tonal balancing act that never feels saccharine nor cynical, Hold Me Back details the continuous struggle to find our own semblance of peace, detailing the necessity for it to be forged from within. Our social nature as human beings requires relationships and connection in order to fuel personal growth, yet the toxicity of self-doubt can be spawned from such exchanges - its persistence is a restraint that must be overcome. As someone who is closing in on 40 years old and has struggled to find meaningful relationships of the romantic variety, Hold Me Back blindsided me emotionally through its honesty about the fears which loneliness and even solitude can place on the psyche. Fragility is simply a part of the experience. Okhu's directorial vision is infused with vibrancy and emotive immersion, deploying a gaze rooted in intimacy but also subjective expressivity. A reductive reading of Hold Me Back would describe it as an infectious, delightful romance, one which beautifully expresses the vulnerability, awkwardness, and ultimately jubilation intrinsic to a budding romance. While this isn't inaccurate in a sense, it's an oversimplification of what Hold Me Back ultimately encapsulates, being an uncanny examination of the soul in which emotional progress isn't easy but something that must ultimately come from within one's own self. Affectionate, distinct, and immersive, Hold Me Back's vision is matched beautifully by a phenomenal lead performance by Non as Mitsuko, who beautifully elucidates the vulnerability of looking for connection, and the restrictions fears, often forged from bad past experiences, can place on personal growth. It's a lovely film and one of the best I've seen this year.
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