Maborosi (1995) **** Blu-ray release

Dir.: Hirokazu Kore-eda; Cast: Makiko Esumi, Takashi Naito, Gohki Kashima, Tadanobo Asanao; Japan 1995, 110 min.

Born in 1962, Hirokazu Kore-eda studied literature at university with plans to become a novelist, later establishing himself as a documentarian in the late 1980s, working in television, were he directed several prize-winning programmes. Maborosi brought him and his DoP Masao Nakabori international acclaim, winning awards at Venice film festival. He would later win the Palme d’Or at Cannes with Shoplifters (2018).

Maborosi is a mature, poetic discourse on the meaning of loss and longing. Scripted by Yoshihisa Ogita and based on a novel by Teru Miyanoto. Maborosi takes its title from the Japanese word for mirage, and resonates with Feu Follet, Louis Malle’s feature about a suicide. Kore-eda was 34 when he shot Maborosi; contrasting modern and traditional life, rather like Japanese master Ozu.

In Osaka, Yumiko (Esumi) is content with her easy-going husband Ikuo (Asano) and their baby-boy Yuichi. One morning she finds the police on her doorstep: Ikuo has been killed on the nearby railroad tracks. Yumiko is shattered, the tragedy bringing back memories of the disappearance and death of her grandmother Kyo, when Yumiko was twelve years old. For a long time Yumiko lives in limbo, not able to accept the death of her husband. An arranged marriage brings her to the remote windswept coast of Uniumachi on the Noto peninsula. Her new husband Tamio (Naito) and his daughter live with an extended family and Yuichi (Kashima) bonds easily with the two. But Yumiko takes time to adjust to her new life, unable to forget her the deep affectionate love she shared with Ikuo. And when she returns to Osaka for a visit, all the old wounds open – particularly when she re-connects with Ikuo’s friends about the circumstances of his death. She goes back to Uniumachi but the past stays with her.

The hustle and bustle of city life in Osako contrast with the tranquil setting of the fishing village. Although in both places Kore-eda shows the warmth and humanity of close neighbours and the daily routine. Yumiko’s anxiousness and the barriers she puts between herself and a new life are palpable: for most of the film we see her as an observer, looking in from outside. The languid tempo also brings to mind Ozu, as do the frequent near static shots, featuring the rough landscape around the village. The feeling that fate could once again We observe this grieving process with a shared feeling of ambivalence: Yumiko has lost confidence in happiness, doom is constantly waiting round the corner. She is not yet ready to say goodbye to her former life and the limbo between the past and an unknown future, where “she brings death to the ones she is close to” – like her first husband and her grandmother.

Moborosi is a story that also paints an emotional portrait; music, light and weather express the heroine’s sate of mind while her serene persona is also deeply troubled. The spoken word is often replaced often by an inner monologue. In the end she has to make up her mind whether she, like Ikuo, wants to ‘listen’ to the siren songs in the light of death, or whether she is ready to progress with her life and new family. Like his compatriot Hsiao Hsien Ho, Kore-eda takes care of every frame: nothing is superfluous, everything is stripped down to the minimum. Kore-eda’s whole oeuvre is about using the screen to paint poetry, his protagonists seek to overcome their banal reality with something more meaningful which, as in this case, can also be destructive. AS



New World (2013) | Bluray release

Dir.: Park Hoon-jung; Cast: Park Seong-ung, Hwang, Choi Min-sik, Lee ja-seng, Ji-hyo Song; South Korea 2013, 134′

Park’s ultra-violent, epic gangster movie is unfortunately all mouth and no trousers. Images of mass slaughter, however stunning – and Chung Chung Hoon certainly pulls out all the stops in this department – can never replace the gaping void left by an incoherent narrative that ultimately leaves most viewers yawning on the sidelines, or even checking their ‘phones. 

After the death of the senior boss of the gangster conglomerate Goldmoon, three men fight in a bloody war for his succession: Lee Jeong-gu (Park) seems to have the best chance, he at least appears to have his act together – more than can be said for the loose cannon Jeon (Hwang), who is an out and out psychotic. The third contender is Lee Jong-jae (Lee), who happens to be a policeman who has infiltrated the gang on orders of his superior chief Kwang (Choi). To make sure that Lee is keeping on the right side of the law, Kwang has ordered Lee’s pregnant wife to keep an eye on him, sending regular reports to the chief. But Lee is really in love with Shin-woo (Ji-hyoSong), who is also a mole set up by Kwang. After her cover is blown, Lee has to shoot her to save her from more torture. After Kwang himself is killed, the plot deteriorates even more, ending in its bloody conclusion. That the gangsters  behave like corporate junkies, when not hell bent on killing each other, is hardly a novelty after a while. Overall, Park has nothing new to offer, just a higher head count than his fellow directors. Shame about the gorgeous images, and the highly skilled professional work of all departments. AS


The Tale of Princess Kaguya (KAGUYAHIME NO MONOGATARI)

Dir.: Isao Takahata

Animation with the voices of Aki Asakura, Takeo Chii, Nobuko Myamato

Japan 2013, 137 min.

Based on the oldest recorded Japanese narrative ‘Taketori Monogatari’, THE TALE OF PRINCESS KAGUYA is the swansong of Isao Takahata (GRAVE OF THE FIREFLIES), co-founder of Studio Ghibli with Hayao Miyazaki. There are several screen adaptations of the story, the best known being Kon Ichikawa’s 1987 life version “THE PRINCESS FROM THE MOON”.

A bamboo cutter Okinia (Chii) finds a doll like girl sprouting from a bamboo shoot. He takes her home, but she is already growing in his hands. A few weeks later she is a young, wild teenager, running through the woods with the boys. Okina and his wife Ona (Myamato) call their foster daughter “Little Princess”, whilst the boys have named her “Little Bamboo”, because of her quick growth. The princess (Asakura) shows no signs of being different from her playmates, but when her foster father finds a cache of gold and fine, colourful garments in the wood, he realises that his foster daughter is destined to grow up a princess at court. The family moves, to the chagrin of Little Bamboo, who hates the court and her new teacher, who tries to turn her into a lady. She is even given a new name, Kaguya, meaning “creature of light”. Soon five famous suitors appear on the scene, all wanting to marry the enigmatic stranger. But Kaguya, who longs for a simple life in the woods with her friends, sets them all impossible targets, which they fail to achieve in different ways; a clever ruse to avoid marrying any of them. Finally, the emperor’s son makes a clumsy attempt to gain her love, and she prays to the forces which placed her in the bamboo sprout, to take her back to the moon. But as soon as she has asked to be taken back, she regrets it. Meeting her girlhood friend Satumaro again, they joyfully fly through the air, Satemaro promising to keep Kaguya safe. But the date of her return is fast approaching; Kaguya knows that back home she will loose all memory of her earthly stay.

THE TALE OF PRINCESS KAGUYA is an emotional and visual tour-de-force, the main protagonist’s desires of a peaceful life in the countryside are thwarted by her materialistic parents who want to achive status in society. Kaguya tries her best to counter the desires of her parents, she even hallucinates the landscape of her childhood, whilst looking out of the window of her palace, trying to go back in time. The eastern brush painting helps to make the images dreamlike, everything is fluid and magical, the vibrant images wafting like flowers in the wind. The silk clothes of the princess give the images an even greater transcendency, culminating in the flight sequence with Satemaro. Kaguya is the epitome of grace, perfectly suiting her: she is a delicately fluttering creature, always on the move, her mood changes translated into colourful images. Some of the early scenes are redolent of an earlier Takahata animation film HEIDI, A GIRL OF THE ALPS. The ending is an array of lighting, where arrows turn into flowers, and the God of the Moon tries to persuade Kaguya to return to her anti-septic home, bereft of any emotional content. THE TALE OF PRNCESS KAGUYA is a wonderful synthesis of dreamlike images, a metaphor for the spiritual life in conflict with materialism and status. An expressionistic phantasy, rather like the paintings of Monet, Manet or Sisley coming to life. AS



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