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  • Writer's pictureBen Turner

Athlete **

Starring: Joe Nakamura, Yohdi Kondo, Yoshiaki Umegaki

Director: Takamasa Oe

Country: Japan

Kohei (Nakamura) is a swimming coach who enjoys his job, but his whole life is thrown into turmoil when he comes home to find that his wife is leaving him. Heading out on an all-night bender in response, he drunkenly meets Yutaka (Kondo), a young animator and online chat-boy, who takes him to a gay bar and then takes him home with him. Without anywhere to live, Kohei agrees to stay and before long, they fall in love. But as Kohei settles into his new life, Yutaka deals with a dying father, who doesn’t know he is gay.

Model and actor Joe Nakamura is a famed heart-throb in Japan and the film features extensive sex scenes, which caused quite the controversy on release. Unfortunately the director relies too heavily on the draw for its Japanese audience of watching these sequences and they end up distracting from the story, which feels subsidiary and a bit of an after-thought.

Both Kohei and Yutaka are interesting characters, especially because their story begins with the latter saving the former, before the roles are reversed in the final act. This structure poses some a strong narrative arc, but it loses its way when you realise that the stakes aren’t especially that high. It’s helped by a cast of fun supporting characters – the colourful regulars at the gay bar pop up recurrently – but the love story takes centre stage and their story is, unfortunately, no Romeo & Juliet. The director scored a goal in securing Nakamura for Athlete, who is clearly a very talented actor, but then scored an own goal by somewhat wasting his talent with an uninspiring plot.



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