Sure to trigger an untold number of check-up calls to parents, “Cherry Blossoms: Hanami” follows a grieving widower’s journey to Japan and a new understanding of both his late wife and himself. International flowering of busy writer-helmer Doris Doerrie, including recent Japan-set pics “Enlightenment Guaranteed” and “The Fisherman and His Wife,” ensures modest but solid arthouse biz. Pic bows March 6 domestically.
Upon learning her set-in-his-ways small-town civil servant husband Rudi (tube vet Elmar Wepper) is fatally ill, Trudi (Hannelore Elsner) persuades him to travel to Japan to visit their son, Karl (Maximillian Brueckner), and see Trudi’s beloved Mount Fuji. They only get as far as Berlin — where their other two grown children (Birgit Minichmayr, Felix Eitner) can barely squeeze them into their busy lives — and the Baltic Sea, where Trudi dies peacefully in her sleep without sharing Rudi’s diagnosis with him.
Rudderless in his quiet grief, Rudi shows up at Karl’s Tokyo door. Left alone most of the time by his brusque, workaholic son, Rudi begins to explore Tokyo, discovering a friend in teenage Butoh dancer Yu (Aya Irizuki). A pilgrimage to Mount Fuji yields the peace for which Rudi has been searching.
A successful novelist whose films bear the expansive plotting and telling character detail of the page, Doerrie never seems in any particular hurry to tell her tales, preferring the journey to the destination. Pic is marbled with telling visual metaphors, each of which is given ample room to breathe during story’s arc.
Cast is spot-on, with craft package to match. Per Doerrie, the tale was inspired by Yasujiro Ozu’s “Tokyo Story” and its own spiritual predecessor, Leo McCarey’s 1937 weepie “Make Way for Tomorrow.” Literal Japanese translation of “Hanami” is “to look at flowers,” and little-known Butoh dancing combines Japanese movement with German expressionism.