A birthday can be filled with happiness or sadness depending on your perspective, but if you’re someone constantly looking for a reason to continue living it can be one of the most difficult days of the year.
Sonoko Ogata’s Birth Day tells the story of a young man named Greg who finds that he can’t relate to his friends’ lives. Photo: Screenshot
Existence itself is part of nature, said Sonoko Ogata the director of Birth Day at a film screening in Toronto. Existing is something that the main character is constantly struggling with because of a traumatic event during his childhood.
Ogata brings the audience into a world where people view society through different perspectives although all through the same lens.
It’s a lens that society calls “normal”.
In Birth Day, Greg is portrayed by Brain Walters who plays a drug addict whose experiences have distanced him from the people in his life. The movies starts with Greg walking around in a forest recalling the voices from stories he had once heard.
As he walks through the forest the audience follows him on his countdown and is brought to his current life inside of a drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre. As the movie progresses the viewer follows him as he goes out into the “real world” to have a job interview and interact with old friends as part of his recovery.
Greg has been struggling his whole life to live within the confines of normality since he was a young child. He struggles to follow what society says is correct as he does not want to conform.
As he’s about to leave the drug rehabilitation program, he finds he can no longer understand his friend Alex (Frank Angelini) who used to be in the same situation as him, but decided to change his life and reform.
But who says that Alex’s way is the right way?
“People [who suffer from mental illnesses] might tell the truth right and see it [the world] right but society’s standard decided they are losers and have to conform,” Ogata said in an interview with Nikkei Voice.
Ogata who is from Kobe, Japan knows that following the norm is very important in Japanese society. In the film Greg’s friend Alex was a drug addict, but he eventually cleaned up his act unlike Greg. Ogata is able to show the difference between the two societies. In Japan “there are no second chances,” but in places like Canada and America it is easier to start over, she said.
Although we are told to find a good job, have children, etc, it doesn’t necessarily mean that we are the normal ones because we decide to follow what society thinks is the norm.
The message Ogata’s film conveys is that people who suffer from mental illness, are borderline mentally ill, or different are seen as outsiders by the people that create the concept of an acceptable society. Ogata knows the stigma surrounding mental illness as she used her personal experience.
Ogata said existing itself is a natural thing, but humans have made society such so complex. She thinks that people should not be cast aside if they decide “not join [society] and find their own way.”
The 80 min film was able to convey that message although Ogata said, “I feel like I could only express some of what I wanted to say.”
In Birth Day Brian Walters does a great job of showing the audience how it feels to be an outsider. Never holding back on how he feels he goes through life doing what he feels is normal.
He’s very honest with people about his feelings, but runs away when he feels as though he is not being accepted. With Greg’s world constantly being dark and gloomy, it is easy to sympathize with how he feels. Leaving us to wonder what happens when Greg finishes the countdown he has been having throughout life.
Is there life after zero?
To the everyday movie goer who goes to the movies to escape reality this leaves you with something more. It brings the viewer on a journey. One that constantly leaves the viewer wanting to know what happens next and why the traumatic event made it difficult for Greg to connect with others.
A simple movie by no means, the story takes us on the journey that is Greg’s life and teaches people to reflect on what we really think of society and what is considered the norm.