Review by Ed Nguyen
Makiko Esumi, Takashi Naitoh, Tadanobu Asano
Director: Kore-eda Hirokazu
Audio: Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0
Video: Color, letter-boxed widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: New Yorker Films
Features: Trailers, director profile, filmography, "Making Of Maborosi" essays
Length: 110 minutes
Release Date: November 21, 2000
my generation...there is a feeling of a lack of certainty about anything, a
universal undefined feeling of loss." - Kore-eda Hirokazu
Japan's current crop of film directors, perhaps none is more promising than
Kore-eda Hirokazu. During the early
1990's, Kore-eda was a well-regarded documentary filmmaker, developing a
reputation as a conscientious social commentator on Japanese life.
Most of his early work was for Japanese television, and one documentary, But
- in the Time of Government Aid Cuts (1991), even earn him a prestigious
Galaxy Award. This documentary
explored the mysterious, apparent suicide of a government official; more
importantly though, it served as inspiration for what would eventually become
Kore-eda's first feature-length film - Maborosi.
is based upon "Maborosi no Hikari (Illusory Light)," a 1979 short
story by Teru Miyamoto. The
original story was inspired by a photograph which the author had once seen of an
elderly woman struggling against the wintry elements of her Noto home.
Miyamoto's story evolved into an exploration of the pain of personal
loss; through Kore-eda's cinematic vision, it has been adapted into a film of
great beauty, filled with painterly and haunting images.
Maborosi is, in Kore-eda's words, a sort of "fairy tale,
through which I could directly convey the interior landscape of the sorrow [the
woman] carries around with her."
is a film about Yumiko, a very young woman living in the Japanese city of Osaka.
She is happily married and has a newborn son, but shortly into the film,
a sudden tragedy claims the life of her husband.
Although Yumiko eventually re-marries after a period of mourning, her
former husband's death, perhaps a suicide, continues to haunt her.
in essence, is the entirety of the plot. Had
this been an American production, the film would probably have featured numerous
scenes involving heavy weeping or cathartic, emotional speeches - in short, it
would most likely have been a manipulative tear-jerker.
Maborosi is none of this. It
is a quiet and subdued film, and much of its drama is revealed not by the actual
dialogue but rather but the settings and the delicates gestures of the
characters. Yumiko herself
internalizes her feelings, the extent of which is only suggested when her scenes
are compared to those of her young son, seen playing along the coastal shores or
exploring the nearby meadows of his new home with his step-sister.
He displays an innocence and gaiety that is diminished in Yumiko's life;
the difference is subtle and easily missed, but its cumulative effect over the
course of the film helps to reveal emotions which are otherwise not verbalized
until almost the final scene in the film. While
Yumiko's emotional restraint may be a reflection of traditional Japanese
culture, it can also be interpreted through Western eyes as suggesting the
struggles of a young woman trying to transcend the unspoken grief within her.
Kore-eda was in the crucial process of finding the right actress to portray
Yumiko, he came across photographs of Makiko Esumi, then one of the top models
in Japan. What struck him most was
the depth and expressiveness of her eyes, in which he saw strength yet also a
great sadness. Esumi had never
acted before but accepted Kore-eda's offer of the role.
Her subsequent performance is a touching one that establishes the
sometimes-merry and sometimes-melancholy tenor for the film.
Esumi's Yumiko is cheerful and talkative, almost child-like, in the early
Osaka scenes but after her husband's death becomes somber and more reserved.
It is as though the weight of her private thoughts has crushed her
spirits, and only through the slow passage of time can she recover some trace of
her former liveliness.
has a recurring dream of her grandmother, who one day long ago walked away from
home and did not return. Yumiko was
a child at the time, though she still carries within her a sense of guilt over
her grandmother's death. This motif
will be re-iterated through the character of the village elderly woman in Noto;
she is a local fisher-woman and a strong swimmer who goes out to sea one day to
catch some crabs at Yumiko's behest but fails to return when expected.
raises an interesting issue concerning death in the film - do people choose the
moment of their passing? And, can
those who are left behind ever hope to completely comprehend how or why a person
dies? Yumiko, still haunted by the
perplexing circumstances around her first husband's apparent suicide, cannot
bear another loss. In a pivotal
scene late in the film, by the Noto seashore, she finally turns to her second
husband for answers, and he responds, "They say that the sea seduces you -
there is this illusory light that appears in the distance and lures you
out to sea."
response is in keeping with the film's lyrical and often poetic tone.
Perhaps death lures us ever closer, and we are powerless in our will to
resist. There may never be a
rationale for why one person dies so young or why another person may lead a full
life. For those of us who must
continue to live in the wake of such tragedies, we can only hope that through
acceptance we may find solace from our private grief.
performance in Maborosi is a major
reason for the film's effectiveness. But,
Kore-eda's expressive cinematography also plays a significant role as well.
Maborosi is that extremely rare film of which it can honestly be
said that nearly every single frame is as pretty as a painting.
Clearly, a great deal of effort was invested in capturing the right
images to create the film's exquisite and poignant look.
cinematography in Maborosi is unusual
in that, for the most part, the camera work shows no movement whatsoever.
Beyond two key scenes (an excursion by the children and Yumiko's scene
near the end), the camera is completely stationary and does not even pan the
landscape. Scenes are frequently
presented as long, uninterrupted takes, affording them a gravity that allows
their full impact to settle upon the minds of viewers.
Moreover, many scenes are done as extreme long shots or medium shots,
with perhaps only two or three true close-ups (of Yumiko) in the entire film.
As a result, these rare close-ups have a more immediate effect upon us,
enhancing our appreciation of Yumiko's state of mind.
cinematography reflects Yumiko's mood in other ways. Since much of her feelings are internalized, subtle visual
clues are used throughout the film, for very little in the film is overtly
presented. Whether it be scenes in
which Yumiko is shown in silhouette, quietly performing household chores or
playing with a small bicycle bell, her last token of remembrance from her
departed husband, these scenes indirectly illustrate the incredible sense of
loss and hollow emptiness that she is experiencing. The landscapes, from the enclosed and claustrophobic city
environs of Osaka, to the more open, breezy oceanside town of Noto, also mark a
progression in her spiritual journey, symbolizing the first step in the
liberation of her true feelings.
Maborosi will affect people
differently, depending on their personal experiences. The film will resonate most strongly in those viewers who
have suffered a personal tragedy. They
will comprehend the heavy burden of guilt and sorrow that accompanies such a
loss and will empathize more deeply with the heavy emotional burden which Yumiko
carries. Maborosi may be a quiet and unassuming film, but it does require
some thought and participation from its audiences.
1995, the film was exhibited at several international film festivals.
At the Venice Film Festival, Maborosi
was awarded the prestigious Ozella d'Oro. At
the Chicago International Film Festival, it received the Best Picture award.
By the year's end, Maborosi had become a regular presence on many top ten lists for the
year, and in the ensuing years, it has become regarded as one of the finest
Japanese films of the past decade.
celebrated Japanese director Akira Kurosawa, towards the end of his career,
lamented what he felt was a slow but certain demise of Japanese cinema.
Kore-eda's feature film directorial debut, Maborosi,
however, proves that Kurosawa need not have worried so.
And hopefully, in the years to come, Kore-eda will continue to fulfill
the great promise as a film director that he displays in Maborosi.
is presented in a non-anamorphic widescreen format.
It is clearly a straight transfer from video, and while the picture
quality is colorful, the print is somewhat soft with a light speckling of dust
marks. Occasional timing dots also
appear, and the subtitles are burnt into the print and therefore cannot be
turned off. There is a graininess
to the transfer, particularly in darker scenes.
The frame is also not always stable, and compression artifacts (edge
enhancements, bleeding, aliasing issues, etc.) do manifest themselves from time
is such a richly textured and beautifully photographed film that it is a shame
the DVD picture quality isn't better. As
it is, this DVD is still watchable but falls short of the increasingly higher
standards for DVD transfers nowadays. I
should note, however, that due to the intimate tone of the film, it works better
on smaller televisions, upon which the imperfections of the transfer itself are
significantly less noticeable.
is presented with a Dolby Digital 2.0 audio track.
This is merely an average track which at certain times has an unusual
echo quality during dialogue. Fortunately,
this isn't really so important, since there is minimal dialogue in the film
anyways. Rather, Maborosi
achieves its narration predominately through the visual impact of its images.
film does possess an eerily ethereal, other-worldly Japanese score.
Kore-eda Hirokazu also employs many natural sounds, such as the gentle
song of the ocean waves, the whistling of the passing breezes, or the chimes and
horns of the city to create the sometimes sad, sometimes magical soundscape of
the film. It may be more accurate
to describe the audio as being comprised mostly of these natural sounds, with
only incidental dialogue.
really aren't any special extra features per
se on this DVD. There are two
trailers for Maborosi, one in English
and one in Japanese, both of which are quite good. A brief director section offers a short biography and
filmography for Kore-eda Hirokazu.
is also a "The Making of Maborosi" section, but it isn't a
documentary. Instead, it is a
series of four very short essays about the film.
These essays are divided into sections addressing inspiration, portrayal,
technique, and reflection, which respectively comment on the concept for the
film, the casting of the lead actress, the cinematic style of the film, and
finally the film itself in general.
this DVD has a nice easter egg! Click
on the New Yorker Films logo, and you will gain access to a not-so-hidden
section. This section contains a
long essay describing the company's history and its dedication to the
preservation and distribution of fine international films.
Included here is a catalog list of some of the company's DVDs.
of all, there are four additional trailers in this hidden section.
The first is for After Life, Kore-eda Hirokazu's second film.
The concept of the film is simple yet poetic - if you could only bring
one memory with you into the after-life, what would it be?
This widely acclaimed film cemented Kore-eda's international reputation
as the most promising Japanese director today.
The second trailer is for Guantanamera,
an award-winning Cuban tale of love and romance.
The third trailer is for Unmade
Beds, a quirky documentary-style film about sex and relationships.
Finally, there is a trailer for Bitter
Sugar, another love story in the politically-energized setting of modern-day
is a haunting but achingly-beautiful tale of a woman's struggles to find love
and hope following a tragic loss. It
marks an extremely impressive feature-film directorial debut for Kore-eda
Hirokazu. Keep an eye on this
is highly recommended for lovers of international cinema!