Almost three years ago I was lucky enough to receive a scholarship to study Chinese at the University of Hawaii. Being that I was going to be in Honolulu for three months, I wanted to explore as much as possible while avoiding the large number of tourist traps. I and a couple of my classmates would go to beaches used by locals and small hole in the wall restaurants that served some of the best food that I had ever tasted. While there, I noticed a number of people with long hair and beards whose skin was as dark and tough as old leather. I talked to a few of them and learned that they hailed from back in the mainland, but had lived in Hawaii for years unable to truly fit in with everyday, mundane society. Last year I went to Okinawa for my girlfriend's sister's wedding and I noticed a few people who fit the same description as those I saw in Hawaii: people who had come to an island paradise away from the hustle and bustle of daily life to do there own thing even if it meant being poor. Coming across Shinohara Tetsuo's Breathe In, Breathe Out brought a number of these memories back to me, thoughts of the loneliness that can be found in paradise.
Breathe In, Breathe Out centers on six, later seven, individuals who have gotten jobs harvesting sugarcane on a small Okinawan island. Each individual comes from distinct backgrounds, but because there is a rule that no one will pry into the pasts of the workers, little is known about each individual, but from their personalities, it seems, that they are all either searching for something more or have given up that search and are content just to exist and fill time. The work is hard and there are few thrills, but the small group of individuals learn how to work together and to enjoy a simpler life away from the big city, but as traces of their past lives begin to rise from the depths of their memories, can they stay happy and will they truly be able to harvest such a large amount of sugarcane in only 35 days?
One of the reasons why I enjoy Japanese cinema as much as I do is because of films like Breathe In, Breathe Out. There is little action, no sex scenes, nor violence, but instead a film that is dedicated to character study and the complex relationships between memory and the formation of self. Highly enjoyable.
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