This visually lush but sometimes ponderously slowfilm is a poetic saga of love and loss. Some trimming of the undeniably beautiful, but protracted, sequences in the latter half would probably result in wider acceptance of first-time director Hirokazu Kore-eda’s promising first feature. In any case, fest outings are definitely indicated.
Kore-eda acknowledges the influence of contempo filmmakers like Theo Angelopoulos and Hou Hsiaohsien, both given to wondrously visual but elongated work, as well as to Japanese master Yasujiro Ozu. It’s not surprising, then, to discover a screnely beautiful piece of filmmaking. Added twist of an unsolved mystery, a la Antonioni’s “L’Avventura,” gives pic extra depth.
At the age of 12, Yumiko let her senile grandmother run away from her. The woman was never seen again, and Yumiko’s sense of loss and guilt for not holding on to the old lady have stayed with her.
When the film proper begins, Yumiko is happily married to Ikuo and they have a 3-month-old son. The couple spend all their spare time together, but one evening police come to tell Yumiko that Ikuo is dead, killed by a train into whose path he’d apparently deliberately walked.
A few years later, she marries again, this time to a widower, Tamio, who lives far away in a fishing village. He has a small daughter, and also lives with his elderly father. Soon, Yumiko is happy again. But a visit to her mother triggers memories of the dead Ikuo, and when a bartender tells her that, just before he died, Ikuo was drinking in the bar and apparently cheerful and quite unsuicidal, the mystery deepens anew. Why did Ikuo die, and how?
These are questions with no obvious answers, though there’s a clue in the film’s title, which refers to a mysterious light that lures sailors far out into the ocean.
Exquisitely photographed by Masao Nakabori, “Maborosi” is indeed a tantalizing film. The first two-thirds, though unhurriedly paced, are charged with beauty and mystery. Only toward the end, with long shots of a procession by the sea, and characters talking as the sun sets over the ocean, does the drama grind to a halt. The visually pure film contains no close-ups, and a virtually static camera is used.
Makiko Esumi, a celebrated model, makes a strong debut as the life-loving woman who is nevertheless wracked with grief. Chen Mingchang, who has composed music for Hou Hsia-hsien, provides the lovely score.