Hikikomori, a phenomenon initially witnessed among Japanese men, is a psychological condition where people shut themselves off from society, often in their home for six months and beyond. House Arrest, the Netflix original film, touches upon this condition, where Ali Fazal’s character isolates himself in his well-equipped New Delhi flat for around nine months.
House Arrest is the screenwriting and co-directorial debut of Samit Basu, who has several novels, graphic novels and children’s books to his credit. “The film is quite different from my script, but the original idea came from my own surroundings. I spent a lot of time by myself and around 2012, I found myself questioning the need to go out at all. Around the same time, I learned of the Japanese hikikomori phenomenon, and a wave of cyber addiction in East Asia, and wondered how that would play out in India,” reveals Basu.
As a trend, it was seen that males above the age of 15, especially those from well-off families, would lock themselves with zero interaction with friends or close family and simply do nothing. In neighbouring South Korea, a 2005 analysis estimated there were 33,000 socially withdrawn adolescents (0.3 per cent of the population), and in Hong Kong, a 2014 survey pegged the figure at 1.9 per cent. It’s not just in Asia, however, and cases have appeared in the US, Spain, Italy, France and elsewhere. Moreover, in 2018, the UK appointed its first ‘minister for loneliness’ and recent Office of National Statistics data found nearly 10 per cent of 16 to 24-year-olds reported feeling “always or often” lonely.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines hikikomori as, “In Japan: abnormal avoidance of social contact; acute social withdrawal; (also) a person, typically an adolescent male, engaging in this; a recluse, a shut-in.”
Shamantha K, Counselling Psychologist, Fortis Hospital, Bengaluru states these kinds of condition can be triggered owing to a few reasons. “First, they may have isolated themselves for a long time — a few months or years — so once they come out of it, the anxiety of being socially out there drives them back into the same isolation. This could be also due to academic failure or personal failure, which affects their self-esteem and they do not want to face the outside world. In Japan, such people would come out after midnight or at odd hours to buy grocery or medicines from distant places to avoid familiar faces and making conversation. Another reason could be medical history.”
Violence and criminal behaviour have also been associated with this mental condition. In the movie, Fazal’s character is not a patient of hikikomori, remarks Basu but he felt the storyline would be relatable for the Indian audience. “India is not a country where we understand solitude, privacy or giving each other space. I wanted to explore a protagonist who needed all of these things, and was considered strange for wanting to be left alone. I was confident the audience would relate, not in 2012, but definitely now, when urban isolation is so common here as well, and we are all locked in our private worlds on our phones,” he commented.
Hikikomori: Adolescence without End, by Stephen Murphy-Shigematsu was the first English translation of a controversial Japanese bestseller that made the public aware of the social problem of hikikomori or “withdrawal”— a phenomenon estimated to involve approximately one million Japanese adolescents and young adults. Drawing on his own clinical experience with hikikomori patients, Saito Tamaki creates a working definition of social withdrawal and explains its development.
“It starts from a very early symptom of how kids are reluctant to attend school cultural events or participate in social camps. They show low social skills by not going to parties or not inviting people, and these things go unnoticed. Because life is so fast in Japan and other countries, parents don’t realise their kid is actually showing signs of anxiety and withdrawal from society. So suddenly, when parents start asking the child to be more active or join the rat race, it has a negative impact,” notes Sneha George, Counselling Psychologist, Fortis Malar Hospital.
The Hikikomori condition may result from a combination of social expectations and personal goals that may challenge one’s self-image. “For example, more and more engineers are produced but there are not enough job opportunities in India; it’s more to do with how society makes them feel,” adds George.