Friday, May 21, 2010

Maboroshi 1995

Kore-eda (director, b.1962), 110minutes

The film is set in the quietitude and rhythms of a remote Japanese fishing village on the sea. Maborosi is about the sudden unexplicable suicide of a young husband, leaving behind the stunned widow, Yumiko, played by a prominent fashion model, and the three-ish year old son. Five years later she remarries, relocating to the aforesaid village. There is little progression of plot and the viewer has to piece together the inner journey of the woman across two marriages.

The film is a visual treat and there is a profusion of broad, horizontal, static shots in which the camera gives us time to linger over the interiors, or examine figures in muted communication. There is a prolonged funeral march in which the mourners proceed in single file towards the left of the screen. The shanties of the fishing hamlet, the trams and buses winding through the mountainside, the narrow allies where the children play, out of the way railway stations--everything is meticulously etched.

The cinematography has been compared to Ozu, but the underacting and sparseness of dialogue is also reminiscent of Bresson. An example is when Yumiko and her son for the first time meet her new husband and his daughter at a railway station in this planned marriage of convenience--like the complete strangers that they are. It is as formal and unemotional as a meeting of two executives, as the man apologises he has to rush to work immediately. The same delicacy, balance and restraint flow through the film.

The reason why the first husband killed himself or why Yumiko's grandmother even furthur back walks into the night never to return are left unanswered. The point of the story is not why the suicide occurs--it is enough to know that it happened-- but how the woman responds to and copes with the event. A big question mark hangs over most suicides, and the suggestion offered by the husband that he was following some mysterious light seems to be begging the question, ignoring the deepest human instinct for survival. As is written, even horses and cattle fear death, how much more a man in his prime. The film is a sensitive study of the "hollow" of  bereavement and guilt. The scars of the mind take long to heal. A suicide, more than a natural death, leaves behind a permanent pall of gloom, feelings of worthlessness and failure to love, making a mockery and superfluity of existence itself. There is never a tear or a sob in the movie and it's only the camera and composition that narrates the festering process. "Your silence spooks me," says the husband at one point.

And the mystery is not why the particular event occurred but why life is the way it is. Or rather to realise that it is.
Ebert's review


Literary Dreamer said...

I'll be watching this one before long. I ADORED Nobody Knows, which also refuses to answer the main question of the film: why did the mother walk out on her four children? Instead, Kore-eda is more concerned with how those children cope with the lack of parental guidance. In a similar fashion, Maborosi seems to be more concerned with how the wife copes with the loss, not with why it happened.

SM Rana said...

I'm trying to get hold of "Nobody Knows". There seems to be another by the name "Air Dolls". I love the gentleness and liesurely pace, not to speak the depth of his films.

Literary Dreamer said...

Yes, Still Walking and Air Dolls are, I think, the only two movies you still have left to see of his, whereas I still have most of his movies left to see.

S. M. Rana said...


His oeuvre seems highly manageable!