Exploring the mind of a 'hikikomori'

By Sarah Cortina

“Japanese movies today are no good,” says 25-year-old director Yasutomo Chikuma. “I really want you to write that.”

Chikuma’s own "Ima, Boku Wa" — which he wrote, directed, produced and starred in — is a response to what the filmmaker sees as an unhealthy obsession with escapism and box-office returns.

The story concerns a "hikikomori" (shut-in) named Satoru Suzuki and his often disastrous encounters with the outside world. In the past decade, emotionally and socially isolated youngsters like Suzuki have become a hot-button issue, but Chikuma said he was drawn to the subject by its close proximity to his own life. “I realized that there were many such people all around me,” he says.

Chikuma maintains this connection throughout the film by employing a leisurely pace and uncomfortably close camerawork to keep the audience firmly in Satoru’s awkward shoes. “My main goal was not to explain about NEETs and 'hikikomori,'” he stresses. “It was to portray the emotions of one young man who had become a 'hikikomori'… to explore the mind of this one individual.”

Over the past year, "Ima, Boku Wa" has won acclaim from audiences at venues like London’s Raindance film festival and Frankfurt’s Nippon Connection Festival.

The film is currently showing at Shibuya’s Uplink theater.

This story originally appeared in Metropolis magazine (www.metropolis.co.jp).

© Japan Today

©2023 GPlusMedia Inc.

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...and his often disastrous encounters with the outside world.

That sounds like my life and I'm not even a hikikomori.

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in a recession it maybe better to stay inside. Why risk it? = I will wait until the recession is over then come out.

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Hikkomori seem to be the Japanese equivalent of people with Social Anxiety Disorder and agoraphobia. They have a fear of going outside because they might do something embarrassing and others would think poorly of them (or their family/group). The fear of shame is crippling. Unfortunately, this is all too common in Japan. People seem to have a strong amount of anxiety about being embarrassed or looking bad.

Fortunately, it is easily treated with systematic desensitization. Break it down into baby steps. Practice how to handle the physical signs of panic and anxiety: biofeedback, meditation, or relaxation exercises. Once they learn to stop the panic attack and the physical signs of anxiety, then they can take the baby steps to doing what they are afraid of. It is completely cured in 8 to 12 weeks. No problem...if they get help.

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DoctorLady, your response is interesting to me because I am in the middle of watching "Welcome to the NHK", which is about a fellow who is a hikikomori and though the story is not based on a real person that I know of, the character reminds me of some of the people I have studied during my psychology clerkship in medical school. To me the show seemed to address the issues of social anxiety and even touch on schizophrenia... though those not versed in these areas may just find the series entertaining.

Having been born and raised in the USA I admittedly do not know much about Japanese culture, but I have always wondered what the US equivalent to the "hikikomori" would be...

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I have read that during the Great Depression, Cinema's became highly profitable because a large majority of the American population starting using the movie be shown at them as escapism. I suppose now with tv and the internet, people can more easily become detached from the outside world. I wouldn't be surprised labels like Hikikomori don't start getting applied to people an more countries. Personally I don't think something like being Hikikomori is as bad, as opposed to the opposite, where you become hateful in an extroverted way like a skin heads.

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Dysprosium317 at 05:14 AM JST - 4th March Having been born and raised in the USA I admittedly do not know much about Japanese culture, but I have always wondered what the US equivalent to the "hikikomori" would be...

American society is so different from Japanese that I don't think we have an equivalent. If we do, we certainly don't have them in the numbers found in Japan.

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Dysprosium317 Shut-in, recluse, hermit, misanthope, these are all very good words to describe different types of hikkikomori. What's better, they're English.

Nerd is otaku, something totally different.

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the real world is scary back to the MMPORG

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I think that you'll find plenty of people in the west who would rather immerse themselves in MMPORGs and the internet than interact with the outside world, just that we dont classify them like the Japanese do. Personally I feel that the English term Nerd falls somewhere between "Hikkomori" and "Otaku" (after all, you could argue that the two words are just the introverted and extroverted sides of the same coin).

This problem is only going to get worse and worse as computer games become more and more able to represent fully realized, all immersive realities that are often a lot more stimulating, and a lot less harsh, than the big bad world outside.

Also, cant help noticing that in this time of recession, a night in with the playstation is a lot cheaper than a night out in Roppongi ...

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If it wasn't video games, the types who become hikkikomori would be reading manga, and if not manga, novels, and if not novels, porn, and so in the pursuit of escapism.

I love video games after a long day. And they were an absolute gateway from books into a more social atmosphere for me as a teen. I was a shy, bookish elementary school student who drifted off into an imaginary reverie during class - but not because of video games. When I started playing games, I came to make friends with others who did. Now, one of the biggest elements of gaming is doing it with others, whether competitive or cooperative.

Don't be too quick to paint MMORPGs or other games as social vacuum. True, the internet is full of trolls and some truly vile video games exist (like that Japanese rape simulation game recently mentioned on JT), but it's still a place based on interaction with others. After all, every blog has a writer and hopefully some readers.

Of course, that doesn't mean technology isn't hampering our ability to read body language, tone, etc - but it might be a kind of inverted bell curve; as our tech gets stronger, it's becoming more and more common to have video chatting and voice chatting. Those actually require you to speak clearly and cooperate with others given that not everyone on a channel can speak at once. So, who knows - we might find hikkikomori are quietly, haltingly blazing the way for online communication...

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Doctor Lady, I think you don't understand what "hikikomori" and "NEETs" are. People with agoraphobia and social anxiety also exist in Japan, but that's a different problem. It's possible that a few hikikomori also have anxiety, but not the majority of them.

They are more like monks without a religion. They withdraw themselves from society, they cut contacts with outsiders, but I wouldn't assume they suffer from anything. And I wouldn't assume they are all heavy internet users and game players (many of those I've met are not).

Well, I have huge tendencies to hikikomorism myself. I think many people that consider themselves as normal give too much importance to socialization, to career. I mean that's good when you have meaningful relationships and interesting activities, but that's an ideal not everybody can get and keep lifelong. So you do what ? Many people are distressed because they don't have 10 friends to go out with 3 times a week, because they have not a social status to show around, because they cannot find a partner... For me, they are the fools. The hikikomori and NEETs probably more wisely appreciate their days.

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Without sounding like Dr. Phil, an equally compelling part of this phenomenon for me is the parents - where are they, what are thinking, why aren't they trying to help?

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