Journey to the Shore

 

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A Japanese film of total originality which undoubtedly impresses but also disappoints.

 

Journey to the Shore

 

In this country Kurosawa Kiyoshi is best known for Tokyo Sonata (2008) but this new work of his is utterly unlike that and, indeed, unlike anything else. The central characters are Mizuki, a piano teacher (Fukatsu Eri), and her dead husband, Yusuke (Asano Tadanobu), who turns up in her home three years after he committed suicide. That description could suggest that this is a ghost story of a well-established kind, but it is not. Instead Journey to the Shore engages as a film about grieving portrayed through stylisation as Mizuki is enabled to make peace with her past.

In a director’s statement Kurosawa has explained the Japanese notion of mitoru, a word that refers to watching over and thus accompanying a dying person by being at their side. But he adds that he finds it easy to believe that the death of the spirit – which he regards as the real death – comes later than the physical death of the body. Thus his film, based on a novel but with the feel of a work created specifically for cinema, offers a flight of fancy built on that notion: we see the couple supporting each other, facing up to facts that have made them feel guilt, sharing secrets and working through loss: all this as they journey together ahead of Yusuke’s spiritual death.

This deeply contemplative work gains immensely from Kurosawa’s sensitivity as reflected in his perfectly judged use of music. On several occasions Mizuki is seen waking up, but this narrative suggest less a dream than an internal emotional study given a stylised outer form. For at least half of its length (the film runs for 128 minutes) this unique work succeeds admirably on its own terms. But, as it develops, it incorporates what emerge as distinct side-tales. These often involve other tragedies that have left guilt in their wake and, indeed, other figures who, like Yusuke who claims to be back to carry out unfinished business, are also the dead still in human form. At least one of these is depicted in sinister terms and the various elements (including, briefly, one actual ghost figure) do not cohere to bring out any consistent theme. Japanese audiences being better attuned may understand what is being suggested more readily than I did, but I certainly found greater unity and thematic sense in Koreeda’s After Life (1998) which is the film that comes nearest to this in its preoccupations. However, Journey to the Shore at its best is memorable and it invites investigation by any viewers who are drawn to territory that blends the emotional and the philosophical in a unique way.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Fukatsu Eri, Asano Tadanobu, Komatsu Masao, Aoi Yu, Emoto Akira, Okunuki Kaoru, Muraoka Nozomi Akahori Masaaki.

 

Dir Kurosawa Kiyoshi, Pro Endo Hitoshi, Matsuda Hiroko and Sawada Masa, Screenplay Ujita Takashi and Kurosawa Kiyoshi adapted from the novel Kishibe no Tabi by Yumoto Kazumi, Ph Ashizawa Akiko, Pro Des Ataka Norifumi, Ed Imai Tsuyoshi, Music Otomo Yoshihide and Eto Naoko, Costumes Ogawa Kumiko.

 

Showgate/Amuse/Wowow Films/Pony Canyon/Comme des Cinémas etc.-Eureka Entertainment Ltd.
128 mins. Japan/France. 2015. Rel: 20 May 2016. Cert. 12A.