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The Reeler Blog

Mills' Cold Reality Screens in NYC

By S.T. VanAirsdale

The current issue of Paper Magazine features its annual array of noteworthy indie movers and shakers, with a liberal dash of seasoned veterans (Abel Ferrara, Christopher Doyle, Justin Theroux) sharing page space with newbies like Greta Gerwig and Marcus Carl Franklin. Somewhere in between falls Mike Mills, the Thumbsucker filmmaker whose feature documentary debut Does Your Soul Have a Cold? had its New York bow Saturday night as part of Paper's Un-Hollywood Film Series.

Tokyo Soul Mike Mills (center) filming "Kayoko," one of his subjects of his new documentary Does Your Soul Have a Cold? (Photo: IFC)

An alum of fests from South by Southwest to Silverdocs, Soul follows Mills to Tokyo, where a handful of subjects relate their histories of depression and detail the psychotropic drug regimens prescribed to shake off their funks. Their general futility serves as an entry point to Mills' systematic critique of pharmaceutical giants like Glaxo Smith Kline, whose early arrival in Japan's antidepressant market resulted in not only the marketing bromides like that in the film's title, but also the potential exacerbation of a diagnosis that rarely surfaced in Japan before this decade.

Indeed, Soul's look at the stigma versus the self-actualization that accompanies the use of anti-depressants revisits one of the central themes from Thumbsucker -- a film whose protagonist's flirtation with Ritalin is perhaps the deepest existential quandary of his life. Mills downplayed the comparison.

"I'm not Mr. Pharmacological Guy," he told the Reeler following Saturday's screening. "I'm Mr. I-Feel-Fucked-Up-In-the-World Guy. I definitely relate to people who are struggling to find a place where they feel OK. And in our day and age, that is so closely related to pharmacology. To me it's a secondary impact of my real theme, which is that people are struggling. I wasn't trying to do Ritalin, antidepressants, next time Xanax... It's just a mistake of my career. Everybody asks that question; you'd think I'm the warpath like that, but no. And Thumbsucker is more symbolic; hopefully this is not symbolic, but more into the minutiae of subjective, concrete details of someone's experience with it."

The results are mixed at best, but Soul excels is in its depiction of cultural denial; as welcoming as Japan is toward GSM and other drug manufacturers, its historic emphasis on reticence virtually forbids conversation about depression or its treatment. Mills noted that his focus on particularly troubled subjects -- those who couldn't hold down work or who retreat from society as a whole -- was partly necessitated by the fact that the diagnosis is severe enough in Japan to cost people their jobs. One subject, Kayoko, cries during her first interview with Mills, explaining that's her usual reaction anytime someone simply listens to her.

"I came in; she's got her dog," Mills recalled. "I have no idea what this is going to be like. We go in and sit down and she starts crying and spills her guts. Everybody did that. And Japanese culture is known for being unwilling to cause conflict or bring up hard things. Some of the Japanese people on the crew said it was kind of a weird reverse racism: Because I'm not of their culture and because of a favoritism toward all things Western, they were very willing to talk to me. Also, I was sympathetic to what they were going through; I had absolutely no judgments about their feelings."

Does Your Soul Have a Cold? airs Oct. 22 on IFC, Paper Magazine's Un-Hollywood issue is on newsstands now.

Posted at September 24, 2007 6:45 AM

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