An insecure young woman struggles to assume her place in the world while preparing to leave the aimless security of college life for an uncertain adulthood in Ryuhei Yoshino’s empathetic social drama, Eternally Younger Than Those Idiots (君は永遠にそいつらより若い, Kimi wa Eien ni Soitsura yori Wakai). Adapted from the novel by Kikuko Tsumura, Yoshino’s film has its share of quirky humour but seems to be overshadowed by a lingering darkness in which there is only constant suffering tempered by a longing for recognition which often goes unanswered.
Horigai (Yui Sakuma) is one of the lucky ones in that she’s already locked in a job for after graduation as a children’s social worker back in her hometown. After making a speech at a uni party, however, she’s challenged by a rude fellow student who calls her out for her arrogance in thinking she has the right to interfere in people’s lives. He has perhaps touched a nerve. Though it’s a job she’s always wanted, Horigai is worried that she isn’t up to it and won’t be able to help anyone in part because she feels herself to be somehow different from those around her and lacking the skills to see what everybody else just naturally sees.
Her sense of inadequacy is thrown into relief by a chance meeting at a party with a soulful fellow student who has just been released after getting arrested for suspected kidnapping having allowed a little boy neglected by his parents to stay in his apartment. Though she bonds with him, he soon leaves her life in unexpected fashion leaving her with an unspoken story hanging in the air. At her part-time job doing quality control at a factory she befriends another young man, Yasuda (Yo Aoi), who eventually confides in her about a very personal problem which she had originally not taken very seriously only to feel bad that she didn’t notice how much pain it was causing and had in a sense even made it a little worse by unwittingly teasing him. She didn’t see it because, in this case understandably, she did not want to look but without fully realising did perhaps make a difference a life just by listening.
Most of all, she berates herself for picking up on her new friend Inogi’s (Nao) buried trauma as manifested in a physical wound to her body. Horigai’s uni thesis is on the link between childhood environment and visions of success, exploring whether or not there’s a difference in the way people dream based on the way they were raised. Some of the answers are, if taken at face value, a little surprising, Inogi wishing for a beautiful daughter-in-law to take care of her in her old age perhaps hinting at her desire for the security of a conventional family, but also somewhat poignant in their seeming simplicity. When Horigai relates a traumatic childhood memory Inogai is brought nearly to tears, despite having just met her, in guilt and sorrow that she wasn’t there to help, a sentiment which is later returned when Horigai learns of her trauma while also reflecting on the fact that she survived it if only by force of will and the gentle kindness of someone who was simply there.
Simply being there is as Horigai learns a big part of it, finally stepping into herself by daring to look at the things she didn’t want see and making a difference in someone’s life who might not have survived if she had simply gone about her business. Having believed herself a “defect”, unfit for human society and unable to make lasting connections with others she gains strength through mutual acceptance that gives her the confidence to be there for those who need her still uncertain if she is really up to the job but doing her best anyway. Death seems to overshadow her, haunted as she is by missing children and the spectres of those whose suffering she could not see, but she is finally able to rise above it in overcoming some of her own childhood trauma. Almost everyone is burdened with something be it guilt, loss, or the legacy of pain and abuse but it helps to have someone to help carry the load. “The world is full of scary shit. Want to try Mario Kart?” Inogai asks, and it might be as good a suggestion as any.
Eternally Younger Than Those Idiots screened as part of this year’s Camera Japan.
Original trailer (no subtitles)