[FILM] " MENTAL " - 2008 / USA & Japan / 135 Minutes
[ SOCIAL AND PASTORAL BULLETIN No. 150 / July 15,2009 ]


I was searching the Yahoo Web looking for a good movie when the title "Mental" caught my eyes. On reading the story, I felt it would be like a documentary film about a mental hospital. I am a member of the Jesuit Japan Province Committee on Socio-Pastoral Activity and belong to a task force on "Mental problems in modern Japan." Thus, I was curious enough to read the review of the film. There were opinions pro and con regarding the film. For some the movie was very good, while others criticized the questionable idea of making a film about mental issues. That interested me and I went to see the movie.
Honestly speaking, my impression after watching the 135-minute long movie was how unkind the film was! Without any explanatory narration, the camera moves calmly around, filming patients and doctors as well as the hospital staff. Sometimes the director interviews patients and the hospital staff and answers questions people have, but besides that there is no explanation given. However, after seeing the movie I bought the program and once I read it I was finally able to understand its meaning.
The setting is "Coral Okayama," a mental clinic in Okayama City that specializes in outpatients. Dr. Yamamoto Masatomo, for 25 years director of the Prefectural Mental Health Center of Okayama, opened the clinic in 1997, after retiring from the Health Center. The reason for taking only outpatients was that he was assisting patients with mental problems so that they could lead lives where they actually reside and not separately in hospitals. They set up within the clinic two workshops, one for the distribution of milk called "Pastel," and the other for serving food called "Mini-Cora." The purpose of the workshops was enable the employment of patients with mental diseases. The clinic also runs a short-stay shelter and a nearby there is a NGO shop that specializes in sending helpers to patients' homes.
The clinic uses an old tatami house, where patients with serious mental illness can rest lying down and talk among themselves. Every Thursday the staff meets with the patients to program activities, like trips, recreation and year-end parties, publishing of newsletters, study sessions on medicines and lectures, and ways to approach public officials.
While watching the film, I could not understand the content. Everything I have written here came from reading the program notes. Among the actors appearing in the film are, for instance, a middle-aged lady who desperately breaks into tears every time she goes to the doctor, "All my close friends leave me," she says, but the old doctor, who is in fact the representative of the clinic, Dr Yamamoto, instead of consoling her talks to her at a quick pace. Later, at a seminar for attendant nurses, the same doctor sweeps up to the platform like a totally changed person. Another case is that of a homeless woman who gets neurasthenic, kills her first child, and as a result hears a voice within her saying "leave this house." There is also a man that has been treated by Dr Yamamoto since he was in high school about 25 years ago. He has taken photos and attaching some poems of his own shows them to his fellow patients. Again, there is an elderly man who believes that an invader inside his head is manipulating him but he is attempting to be independent by learning cooking from his helper.
As a result of government policies to cut medical costs, the clinic desperately opposes repeated moves to reduce services offered to patients. Dr Yamamoto's monthly salary at the clinic is just 100,000 yen. In the name of "giving aid to encourage independence," the government's policy of actually cutting medical and welfare expenses is seriously damaging the lives and medical care of mentally disabled people.
The director, Soda Kazuhiro, has adopted a new style of documentary film. Different from his previous movie, "Elections" (2007), this movie offers no explanations and is simply called a "film to watch." But who is watching whom? Who is abnormal? Since the film gradually becomes more and more confusing, I cannot honestly recommend it to people who wonder whether they themselves are normal or not.

[Shibata Yukinori, Jesuit Social Center, Tokyo]
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