Classical in a manner that recalls Mikio Naruse’s “Scattered Clouds” (1967), “Cold Bloom” dramatizes the tormented love between a widow and the man responsible for her husband’s death. By setting his story against an industrial landscape rife with post-3/11 despair, Nipponese helmer-scribe Atsushi Funahashi invests timeless themes of love and forgiveness with national relevance. Observing his protags’ painful repression with the same verisimilitude of “Nuclear Nation,” his docu on Fukushima evacuees, Funahashi invokes his compatriots’ courageous ability to overcome the past and embrace an uncertain future. A warm welcome by fests could be extended to special-interest TV slots.
Both blue-collar workers at a small factory in Hitachi, a town in Ibaraki prefecture, Shiori (Asami Usuda, enthralling) and Kenji (Yo Takahashi) have a blissful marriage. Kenji’s invention has earned the company a new contract from Kitami, a major hydro-engineering firm, and he and Shiori have a mortgage, and plan to have a baby.
Their happiness is short-lived. Kenji is crushed to death on the job; Shiori’s in-laws seize the meager compensation and disown her, and the factory loses Kitami’s contract. Most unbearable of all, Shiori has to go to work every day and see Kenji’s closest co-worker, Takumi (Takahiro Miura, green but memorable), whose carelessness caused the accident. No amount of hostility from Shiori or humiliation by colleagues can impel him to quit.
Maintaining an unhurried tempo and an air of hushed reverence, the pic furtively hints at Shiori’s loneliness and despondency even as she soldiers on, until a series of revelations by Takumi culminates in a liberating finale.
The pain that engulfs the film is compounded by the factory’s atmosphere of inexorable entropy, marked by layoffs and disgruntled employees. It’s rare for a contempo Nipponese meller to focus so unblinkingly on the country’s labor problems and corporate malpractice, making Shiori’s factory the microcosm of an industrial sector rocked by recession and paralyzed by nuclear fallout. The scene in which Shiori has to beg Kitami executives to renew her factory’s contract, even though their slack safety measures led to her husband’s death, is both poignant and scathing.
Although 3/11 is not conspicuously written into the script by Funahashi and Murakoshi, the sudden tragedy that befalls the protags holds up a psychological mirror to a nation’s collective misfortune and the gross injustice it suffers. The film’s Japanese title means “under a row of sakuras in full bloom,” and a sakura tree indeed plays an inspiring role in the drama, symbolizing the pivotal moment when the Japanese, like trembling petals, are poised to plunge into the unknown.
Faultless technical elements, especially the crisp sound effects and sonorous piano score, go a long way toward alleviating the initial morose tone and muted perfs. While the dim indoor lighting effectively makes the factory resemble a Victorian sweatshop, Koichi Furuya’s compositions of forlorn seaside locations pave the way for marvelous traveling shots that render the finale’s emotional payoff all the more exhilarating.