The 60-year career of nonagenarian Japanese auteur Kaneto Shindo continues apace with the classy WWII meller “Post Card.” Yarn about a rural woman twice widowed by the Nipponese Pacific War campaign efficiently deals with myriad themes, from fidelity to wartime patriotism, without feeling like a lecture. Pic will probably be passed over by Japan’s youth-driven film market when it opens domestically next year, but a jury award from the Tokyo fest should underline its potential to become a high-status addition to other major fests.
In 1944, at a remote temple converted to barracks, Japanese soldier Sadazo Morikawa (Naomase Musaka) receives a poetic postcard from his wife, Tomoko (Shinobu Otake), the night before he ships out to fight in the Philippines. Partly because of the military censorship of personal mail, and partly because he fears it may be his last communication with his wife, Sadazo worries about the inadequacy of his simple response: that he has been touched by her card. He passes the postcard and his response to fellow soldier Keita Matsuyama (Etsushi Toyokawa), reasoning that Keita, bound for the much safer destination of Tokyo, is more likely to survive the war.
Narrative then cycles back to the time when Tomoko saw Sadazo off from their small village. But Sadazo’s premonition soon proves correct: He is killed en route to Manila. In keeping with a tradition in which siblings inherit everything, the widowed Tomoko is encouraged to marry Sadazo’s younger brother Sampei (Yasuto Daichi). Unfortunately, Sampei is also drafted and dies.
Up to this point, Shindo’s script considers the waste of life during wartime with considerable detachment and even wry humor. But the drama begins in earnest when Keita arrives at the Morikawa house, intending to deliver Sadazo’s postcard. Carrying the emotional burdens of his own guilt and post-military-service domestic complications, Keita finds in Tomoko a resilient if embittered and impoverished woman. Both are burdened by what they’ve endured and the difficulty of moving on.
Much of the story, especially an extended discussion between Keita and Tomoko, has a stagy feel, and Shindo draws on cinematic techniques to enhance rather than hide the film’s legit flavor. Shindo favors extended takes, cutting only when essential, and also makes good use of long shots to capture dramatic action while maintaining a certain distance.
While the theatricality of this approach is clearly intentional, it lays bare some weaknesses in Otake’s vigorous performance, which at times tilts into histrionics. Toyokawa has more success in a stoic role that calls for less on-the-surface emotional range.
Lensing by Shindo’s d.p. of the new millennium, Masahiko Hayashi, is impeccable, whether on rural location or on the traditional house set. All other tech credits are of high quality.