“Love Letter” is an extremely attractive and succulently filmed love story given several unusual twists by talented first-time writer-director Shunji Iwai. Magnificent widescreen camerawork by Noboru Shinoda and a fine cast are extra pluses.
Pic kicks off in the city of Kobe with a striking opening sequence of a memorial service taking place in winter snows. A young woman, Hiroko, is isolated from the rest of the mourners; her fiance, Itsuki Fujii, had been killed two years earlier in a mountaineering accident.
After the ceremony, she visits the home of the dead man’s mother and, while leafing through his high-school graduation yearbook, impulsively makes a note of the address where her lover had lived as a boy. She writes a simple letter to Itsuki as though he were still alive.
Miraculously, her letter is delivered to another Itsuki Fujii, a young woman about Hiroko’s age. She replies to Hiroko, and strange correspondence begins between the two. The femme Itsuki went to school with the other Itsuki, and was ribbed because she had the same name as a boy.
Flashbacks fill in school days, but most of the film is set in the present as the two women come to know each other through their letters, which reopen memories filled with pain and regret.
It’s an intriguing theme, beautifully handled by Iwai and his fine cast and given top-flight production values in this handsomely mounted pic. With pointed references to Proust’s “Remembrance of Things Past,” there are literary underpinnings here that make this drama farmore substantial than merely a saga of unrequited love. Iwai is clearly a newcomer with much to offer.