iSugio

My SO Has Got Depression – Review

by Miguel Douglas

@isugoi

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Mikio is a married man and works hard for the company where he is employed. Then one day Mikio is diagnosed with depression. Mikio’s wife is Haruko. They have been married for 5 years. Haruko draws comics for work, but they do not sell well. She mainly relied on Mikio for support. Meanwhile, Haruko did not notice any changes in her husband. She begins to blame herself for not noticing any signs. Mikio’s depression derived from his work. His company has been pressing him to quit the company. After Mikio quits his job his condition improves, but the dynamics of their relationship changes.

Considering the extraordinary fast paced nature of Japanese society as a whole, the distress of individuals within such a social structure can often times reach considerable heights. With the strenuous workload, overcrowded environments, and a reluctance to keep the expression of true emotions to a minimum, the notion of depression has certainly affected the Japanese contemporary landscape in a significant way. Suicide has consistently risen since the recession-plagued 1990’s, with the concept of depression equally growing alongside it and being viewed as a serious medical issue to contend with. For the most part, Japan has viewed depression as an illness rather than a genuine medical condition, an approach that has presented the treatment of such a matter in a rather detrimental fashion. Only within the last decade has this slowly begun to change. Based on the manga How Do I Cope with My Husband’s Depression? (Tsure ga Utsu ni Narimashite) by female manga-ka Tenten Hosokawa, Kiyoshi Sasabe’s My SO Has Got Depression—with the “SO” in the film’s title signifying “significant other”—offers an insightful look into the state of individual and familial depression—even if it a little overly dramatic for its own good.

The film essentially focuses on the emotional plight of Mikio (Masato Sakai) as he battles with his newfound state of seemingly perpetual unhappiness. The film doesn’t necessarily pinpoint the exact root cause of his sadness; it’s just viewed as a culminating factor stemming from a combination of his stressful career and meticulous nature. He is seen as a man unwilling to find joy in the simplest of social interactions, instead allotting much of his time towards contemplating the state of his worthiness to both his company and wife Haruko (Aoi Miyazaki). While the film is a rather brutish in portraying Mikio as a character we can empathize with given his emotional hardships, the film slowly transforms from being a rather individualistic journey of depression to that of marital one. Aoi Miyazaki gives a great performance in the loving and understanding Haruko, a wife willing to completely change her life around to accommodate the needs of her despairing husband. The relationship dynamics of these two characters are played relatively well by both Sakai and Miyazaki, with Sakai portraying the stringent and professional Mikio and Miyazaki portraying the lazy and uncoordinated wife with ease.

The film’s narrative plays out through the rather rough sketched drawings by Miyazaki’s character Haruko, showing the trials and tribulation of the couple in comic form. The film does somewhat struggle in conveying to us just how these characters are compatible though; a simple animated sequence showcases that they met in art school—which is about as far as it goes in regards to telling viewers why they like each other. Given that the actors do portray their respective parts relatively well, one has to look at the tangibility of their situation as a married couple in general. They don’t seem compatible in the slightest, both from the perspective of their characteristics and likes. Their only real connection seems to stem from their mutual liking of art, but we only see a glimpse of Mikio’s appreciation for the medium while Haruko’s entire livelihood is based upon it. This is discouraging considering that the film does make an attempt to tackle authentic issues surrounding depression—questions concerning antisocial behavior, having to leave work, and even suicide—but Haruko and Mikio’s incompatibility makes the entire narrative somewhat of a far stretch outside the realm of believability. This is not to label the film as inconsiderate towards the issues it raises, but perhaps presenting a more plausible, like-minded relationship would have greatly improved the way we view the struggles of these characters.

Since the film is loosely based on real life events, My SO Has Got Depression makes the odd decision to highlight specific events within Haruko and Mikio’s life and gloss over seemingly very important ones. For example, when Mikio decides to quit his job after he is diagnosed with depression, the issue of paying bills should become a prominent issue given that Haruko isn’t working as well. While the film barely addresses this issue, it never truly resolves it, instead only choosing to simply ignore it for the sake of showcasing Mikio slipping further into angst-riddled bouts of depression. This could’ve played a more crucial role in their relationship—showing us another example of how depression can affect the lifestyle of an entire family rather than just the individual. Sasabe seems to slog through a variety of generic narrative devices that rely highly upon melodrama rather than the show us the more authentic problems that can arise from those facing depression. This is somewhat disappointing considering that the film hints at Mikio’s influence upon Haruko, with her even beginning to show signs of her own fall into depression—but Sasabe refrains from doing so and only suggests it in the most superficial of ways.

Despite many of these issues, My SO Has Got Depression is still a film that bravely enters one of Japan’s most taboo issues. The film provides a platform in which to view and discuss just how devastating depression can truly be if gone unchecked. And while the film does showcase such drastic circumstances, it’s also a film about the hope of living a life free of the mental chains of unhappiness. One can certainly appreciate the effort that went into creating a film such as this, simply for the fact that it tackles a very prominent contemporary dilemma that is being faced by numerous people today. If Sasabe could’ve put more emphasis on real life issues that stem from depression rather than focusing almost entirely on generic melodrama, the film would have provided an excellent examination on depression and its effects on the family unit. Considering the popularity of the manga when it was released, the film adaptation is somewhat of a lingering experience that doesn’t really address the disorder as much as it could or should have. Sasabe still showcases many positive qualities within the film, with My SO Has Got Depression not quite reaching its full potential but nonetheless at least bringing the issue of depression into the theatrical centerfold in a thoughtful manner.

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Author: Miguel Douglas

As an avid viewer of both Japanese animation and cinema for more than a decade now, Miguel is primarily concerned with establishing a critical look into both mediums as legitimate forms of artistic, cultural, and societal understanding. Never one to simply look at a film or series based solely on superficiality, Miguel has dedicated himself towards bringing awareness to Asian entertainment and its various facets.

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