The haunting image of a young woman who discovers the bud of a flower is growing in her lung is at the center “L’Ecume des Jours,” one of the most famous novels of the influential post-war French author Boris Vian, a story that is transferred to Japan in Go Riju’s version of the book. Filled with beautiful imagery and intriguing elements, the film is nevertheless a little too languid to achieve widespread acceptance. However, further exposure on the fest route may give it a profile that could result in niche distribution in some territories.
An opening title admits Riju’s film will be “unfaithful to the world of the novel.” The setting is Tokyo, where young astronomer Kotaro (Masatoshi Nagase) meets Kuroe (Rie Tomosaka) at a gallery opening; in Japanese, the pronunciation of “Kuroe” sounds a lot like “Chloe.” He’s there because his aunt is the artist; she’s been invited because she works at a laundry the aunt frequents. Neither of them likes the paintings very much, and it’s love at first sight.
Kotaro is so happy that he generously loans a large sum of money to his best friend, Eisuke (Shinya Tsukamoto), an obsessive collector of the illustrated books of cult writer Kitano (played by Shinji Aoyama, director of the Cannes Fipresci prize winner “Eureka”).
Kotaro and Kuroe marry almost immediately in a Christian ceremony and move into an apartment. Life is completely joyous until, one day on the beach, Kuroe collapses. Doctors diagnose a tumor in her right lung and operate to remove the lung; the “tumor” turns out to be the bud of a water lily.
This miraculous occurrence is accepted with wonderment by the couple, but not long afterward another lily bud is detected in Kuroe’s left lung. This can’t be operated on, and the young wife is confined to her bed in a weakened condition. Some respite is found from the fact that the first bud withers when placed in proximity to other flowers, so Kotaro fills the room with blooms. But he spends so much time caring for his wife that he is fired from his job.
Riju, who played the young Mishima for Paul Schrader and whose directorial debut, “Elephant Song” (1994), played the fest circuit, has made a bold attempt to capture the spirit of Vian’s cult novel. Film could stand some pruning, however, especially in a long scene in a bar.
Indeed, the subsidiary characters, including Miyuki Matsuda as Eisuke’s loyal girlfriend, are considerably less interesting than the central couple. This apart, the film is full of strikingly well-handled scenes and ideas, such as the fact that the room in which poor Kuroe is fading away literally becomes smaller.
Rie Tomosaka is touchingly good as the ailing Kuroe, while Masatoshi Nagase, the actor well known for his roles in indie American films (Jim Jarmusch’s “Mystery Train” and Hal Hartley’s “Flirt”) and the Icelandic road movie “Cold Fever,” effectively portrays the initially fulfilled but ultimately devastated Kotaro.
Widescreen lensing by Noboru Shinoda is graceful and elegantly beautiful.