Today’s Japanese live in a lonely place, if the results of a 2022 survey conducted by consulting hotline Ibasho Chat and Waseda University associate professor Michiko Ueda are anything to go by. Of the 3,000 respondents, around 40% reported feeling lonely, with those in their 20s and 30s suffering more from moderate to serious depression than other age groups.

In her first directorial feature, “People Who Talk to Plushies Are Kind,” Yurina Kaneko examines this isolation and emotional fragility by exploring a subculture I didn’t know existed: People who seek solace in plushies — cute creatures made from soft fabric. (And distinct, as aficionados will tell you, from stuffed animals.) Her stance is a mix of sympathy and objectivity, with no jokiness whatsoever.

Co-scripted by Kaneko and based on a novel by Ao Omae, the story focuses on three protagonists who are members of a college plushies club: Tsuyoshi Nanamori (Kanata Hosoda), a sensitive guy who can’t feel romantic love; Mimiko Mugito (Ren Komai), a depressive girl who befriends him; and Yui Shiraki (Yuzumi Shintani), a cheerfully frank woman whose interest in the club begins as a mystery.