A smashing return to his indie roots, director/writer Shiota Akihiko expertly delivers with Lifeline, a film exploring the psychological aftermath of 3/11, the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami that occurred off the coast of Japan. Akihiko has brought home many festival awards, from best film to best new director, and VIFF has been a home for three of his films in the past. After working with actors Seto Koji and Yoshinaga Jun, Akihiko has brought them together once again in this authentic reflection of trauma, and the way it shapes and reshapes those who survive.
While historical tragedies often focus on the immediate circumstances and devastating fallout, Akihiko has chosen to delve into the long-term effects, with Lifeline set three years after the earthquake and tsunami. Ryosuke, a young man who is forced to take over the family car company after his father’s death, finds his life disrupted when a headstrong, callous girl, Shiori, is left at the side of the highway in front of his work. She sneaks into one of his cars to sleep, and the film shifts into motion immediately.
Ryosuke watches as homeless yet effortlessly beautiful Shiori has no trouble finding a ride, getting into car after car and going home with stranger after stranger. These men always want to take her to the sea, but, as she repeats many times, it “stinks of rotting fish.” The sight of the ocean, an entity seen as beautiful to all, gathering groups of people along the shore, still hits her with fresh bitterness. “Shiori is masochistic. After losing close friends and family, she is filled with guilt for surviving,” Akihiko explains.
You’ll be drawn in with Ryosuke and Shiori’s quiet, quickly intimate conversations that parallel their feelings about life, and pain. They may not have much in common except for one thing: loss. Despite their baggage, Akihiko executes a satisfying, though bittersweet, end to Lifeline that mirrors his personal, positive outlook on the future.
During the Q&A following the screening, Akihiko spoke on the wanderers in Japan, those impacted by 3/11 who still haven’t found their place, their home, their lives back. When he decided to create a film based on 3/11, he thought back on his experience of the tragedy, saying, “I was in Tokyo at the time. I didn’t see the real thing. I wanted to make a film coming from what I knew, from my reality, not try to imagine what [those personally affected by 3/11] experienced.”
Lifeline calls to question our society’s short-term memory of world disasters. It is an expression of survivor’s guilt, the massive weight of loss, the self-destruction that follows, and the courage and persistence needed to find a footing in the world when it crashes on you.