Athlete is a Japanese BL movie about a former pro swimmer, who takes on a young male lover after his divorce. Although there is a lot of passion in the relationship, they discover their lifestyles are incompatible with each other. The two of them have different expectations regarding stability, commitment, and spending the future together.
Even though Athlete starts out intriguingly, the movie loses direction and feels aimless after a while. The messaging seems muddled amid the manufactured conflict, unclear character motivations, and a romance that fizzles out by the end of the film.
Athlete Movie Summary
Around 85 minutes
Sad and bittersweet
Yes, Athlete features a BL romance.
Kohei is a former professional swimmer who lost his chance at an Olympic medal due to an injury. Now, he teaches swimming lessons to young children, but has received complaints that his curriculum is too strict. His boss warns Kohei not to transfer his failed athletic dreams onto the kids, a piercing statement that deeply hurts his feelings.
At home, Kohei's wife announces that she wants a divorce. Although this comes as a shock to him, even Kohei's daughter Mizuna has observed that her parents' marriage fell apart long ago. After the divorce, Kohei gets drunk and roams the city streets late at night. When Kohei begins to throw up in the middle of an alleyway, a nearby stranger takes notice and wants to make sure he's okay.
This stranger is Yuta, a young gay man who provides Kohei with a place to spend the night while recovering from his drunken stupor. Yuta even cooks him breakfast the next morning. Kohei is suspicious of waking up at a stranger's home at first, but realizes that Yuta hasn't taken advantage of him while intoxicated. Touched by Yuta's hospitality, Kohei returns to the apartment in the evening and treats him to a nice homemade dinner.
After dinner, Kohei opens up to Yuta about his failed marriage. Kohei admits that he only got married and started a family out of loneliness. However, that feeling never truly went away, and he's feeling even more alone now after the divorce. An empathetic Yuta is there to console him as Kohei cries into his arms. Since then, Kohei and Yuta have come to an unspoken agreement where they become roommates and live together.
On another evening, a drunk Yuta also opens up about himself, revealing that he's estranged from his family and he still hasn't come out to them. Now his dad is hospitalized, but Yuta can't bring himself to visit because he feels like a failure. As Kohei comforts him, this moment of vulnerability turns passionate when Yuta leans in for a kiss. The kiss changes the relationship dynamic between Kohei and Yuta, taking their newfound friendship to a whole different level of intimacy.
Athlete Movie Trailer
Athlete Movie Cast
Kohei Joe Nakamura (ジョーナカムラ) Joe Nakamura Instagram
Kohei is a former professional athlete whose injury lost him the opportunity to win an Olympic medal. Since then, he works as a swimming instructor for young children, a job that leaves him unfulfilled. Kohei is married with a teenage daughter, but his family falls apart after his wife wants a divorce. As he goes through a midlife crisis, Kohei meets Yuta during a chance encounter.
Yuta Yohdi Kondo (こんどうようぢ) Yohdi Kondo Instagram
Yuta is a young openly gay man who befriends Kohei, after meeting him in the middle of the street one night. Yuta is estranged from his family, having left home ten years ago to pursue his dream of becoming an animator. However, his career has stalled and he feels ashamed to visit his bedridden father with no accomplishments. Yuta also hasn't told his family he's gay, a secret that has been eating away at him.
Reina Tasaki (田崎礼奈)
Yoshiaki Umegaki (梅垣義明)
Fumihiko Nakamura (中村文彦)
Athlete Movie Review
Drama Review Score: 6.3
I really wished Athlete was a better movie, because I'd love to champion these low-budget indie films that portray a sensitive LGBT story. Unfortunately, the quality is just not up to par, falling short in terms of the plot, the romance, and the acting. I wouldn't call this a bad movie, but there's definitely a lot of room for improvement.
In the beginning, Athlete kept up the illusion that its story had potential. The movie built up some decent momentum, touching upon the themes of loneliness, identity, and what it's like to go through a midlife crisis. We got a good understanding of who Kohei and Yuta were as characters. Plus, their relationship seemed to be progressing along nicely. They didn't jump to sex right away, but the couple showed restraint and got acquainted with each other first before becoming physically intimate.
Athlete was intriguing for the first thirty minutes or so before the story started going downhill. The movie lost steam by the halfway mark, where it felt the need to manufacture conflict in the plot. Gradually, the romance became splintered, the characters lacked rationale, and the drama unfolded in a wayward aimlessness. Yuta's actions felt especially incomprehensible. His character started out as calm, empathetic, and mature, but then his personality deteriorated and he got really messy to watch.
The production values in Athlete are limited by a noticeable low budget, but I must say that some of the camerawork is surprisingly thoughtful. I love how this film uses colour and lighting to convey the mood in certain scenes. There was a sex scene shot in a neon purplish light, giving it a chic and stylish appearance. Another moment was the scene where Kohei swam to the middle of the pool with the waves distorting around his body, creating a cool optical effect. I appreciate little visual details like these that elevate the movie aesthetically.
You know what else elevated this movie aesthetically for me? Oh my god, Kohei's actor (Joe Nakamura) just oozes sex appeal in every scene. His character is like this super hot daddy with an incredible physique, and I must admit that his sizzling hotness improved my cinematic experience. It's a shame that I wasn't really feeling the romance between Kohei and Yuta, which had such a big age difference to overcome. Plus, Yuta's actor (Yohdi Kondo) lacked enthusiasm in his performance, affecting the chemistry between the couple.
Despite liking certain aspects of the Athlete movie, the cons ultimately outweigh the pros. The plot lost its way, the message became muddled, and the film just didn't come together satisfyingly. I didn't love the way it ended either. By that point, the movie felt like someone let out all the air from a car tire, leading to a very flat and deflated conclusion.
At first, I thought the story in Athlete would have a lot of potential. Here's this former professional athlete trying to recapture his past glory, feeling lost after his failed marriage, and struggling with a perpetual fear of loneliness. Any one of these plots could have been explored in depth with interesting results.
Instead, the actual story is so underwhelming. One of the problems is that they spent too much elaborating on the relationship drama. I understand that Kohei and Yuta are very different, but the movie just kept hammering on and on about how these guys are from such different worlds, the two of them are incompatible, they can never get along, etc., etc. , etc. That's fine, but are there any other points you want to make besides this?
We don't need an entire hour of the movie emphasizing how Kohei and Yuta aren't right for each other. We know. You told us already. Let's explore some other stories as well. Much of Kohei's character development got sidelined in favour of this boring relationship nonsense. I thought we'd get to dig deeper into his midlife crisis, but his whole journey just revolves around falling in love with some random guy. It doesn't feel very engaging to watch.
Kohei and Yuta
As emphasized many times throughout the movie, Kohei and Yuta don't work as a couple. The two of them have an enormous age difference, plus they're in completely different stages of their lives. These are two people from separate worlds who wouldn't have gotten together under normal circumstances.
Kohei is a straight, divorced father looking for another long-term relationship to replace his failed marriage. Yuta is a young gay guy still discovering himself and trying to enjoy different experiences in life. One wants to settle down for good, whereas the other one wants to explore and be free.
I suspect there's a part of Yuta that sees Kohei as a ~father figure~. This dynamic isn't explored that much during the movie, but Yuta's attraction towards Kohei comes from wanting the love and approval of an older man. Notice how Yuta initiated his romantic advances only after Kohei consoled him and gave him a shoulder to cry on. It's the emotional connection that brought them together. From Yuta's perspective, Kohei fills a void in his life that he never got from his real-life father.
For Kohei, he's driven by his crippling fear of loneliness. He clings to this romance with Yuta, not wanting to be alone and fail again in another relationship. Basically, he just wants someone to love him, young or old, male or female; it doesn't matter. However, Kohei feels insecure knowing that his boyfriend isn't ready to commit to a monogamous relationship. Yuta can't give him the stability and commitment that Kohei longs for.
Lack of chemistry
The acting in Athlete is okay, but not exactly remarkable. Overall, Kohei's actor (Joe Nakamura) seems natural and comfortable in his role, whereas Yuta's actor (Yohdi Kondo) is a bit more subdued.
I don't think the two actors shared that much chemistry together. Their sex scenes have this weird energy. Kohei is so forceful with his movements and Yuta has way less enthusiasm than him. Instead of paying attention to their passion or intimacy, all I'm noticing is that Yuta doesn't seem entirely at ease during these scenes.
The Athlete movie has a sad ending where Kohei and Yuta don't end up together. Although they have a passionate romp on the beach, Yuta still walks away from this relationship and Kohei doesn't fight to keep him either. Both of them realize that they are too different, so they can't make this romance work.
A year later, Kohei and Yuta meet up again at a friend's funeral, but there's no telling whether the passion is still there between them. The movie is left open-ended, up to you to decide whether Kohei and Yuta will give the relationship another go.
I actually think this ending makes sense. Realistically, these two characters would choose to part ways since they are incompatible with each other. With that said, the ending is anticlimactic and lacks emotional resonance. I don't feel sad or heartbroken for the two of them. I'm just left with a feeling of…meh.
Kohei is the most interesting character in the movie with complex motivations, raw emotional vulnerability, and a flawed personality. After a floundering career and a failed marriage, we are introduced to him at the lowest point in his life. Here is a depressed man wrestling with his midlife crisis as he tries to find meaning in his life again.
Unfortunately, his character's journey doesn't feel complete. I liked the scene where he came out to his daughter, which showed him taking ownership of his happiness. Other than that moment, I didn't get the sense Kohei grew much as a person during the movie. His journey feels kinda flat for a supposedly complex character.
Skin & nudity
We get plenty of shirtless scenes from both characters since they have sex on multiple occasions. Kohei has an excellent swimmer's physique, built with these tanned and tight muscles. He looks fantastic on screen, with or without clothes.
Yuta is faced with several instances of homophobia in the movie. During one of the encounters, he almost got into a street brawl with a stranger, who made nasty comments about seeing a gay couple kiss. Even though the homophobic remarks weren't directed at him, Yuta was PROVOKED and demanded an apology.
Kohei's coming out scene
Spurred by one of his bullied students, Kohei decides to be stronger and not hide his relationship with Yuta. He meets up with his teenage daughter and tells her about his new boyfriend. Mizuna's reaction was primarily confused, unsure how to feel about this news, but she cracks a small joke to cheer up her dad at the end of the scene.
I liked how simple Kohei's coming-out scene was, which didn't feature any theatrics or melodrama. Kohei had a calm, mature conversation with his daughter about dating a guy. Then, she asked him a couple of questions before ultimately subtly voicing her support. It was a pleasant, subdued exchange between the two characters that felt very authentic.
When Yuta's character was introduced, he seemed like a pretty decent guy. Here's this generous young man who took care of a drunk stranger, offering him food and shelter without the expectation of anything in return. Early in the film, Yuta came across as kind, mature, and quite wise for his age. I had such a good first impression of him.
However, Yuta's personality unravelled as the movie progressed. Him cheating on Kohei was like a turning point, and his character went downhill from there. Since then, Yuta got messier and messier. He threw tantrums, behaved immaturely, and just seemed to shut the world around him.
While I didn't like seeing this side of Yuta, the bigger problem is that his behaviour didn't make much sense. Yuta's thought process was never explained too clearly, making his actions seem pretty irrational. It was frustrating to watch him in the movie's second half because he seemed so lost and adrift. I would change his characterization, keeping the same struggles and flaws, but portraying him with more depth so that he is a sympathetic figure.