Dolce opens to a clinical biographical overview of writer and poet Toshio Shimao (1917-1986) as the narrator (Aleksandr Sokurov) thumbs through a family photo album, describing Shimao’s privileged life as the heir of an affluent merchant family, before enlisting in the Japanese military as a kamikaze pilot during the Pacific War. Stationed on a remote southern island while awaiting orders to be deployed for his suicide mission, Shimao falls in love with a local young woman from a prominent samurai family named Miho and, in a fortuitous twist of fate, is ordered to abandon his campaign as Japan moves closer towards conceding defeat. Toshio and Miho adjust to postwar life by settling in Kobe and starting a family-run business of publishing Shimao’s literary work. It is a seemingly content life until one day when Miho reads Toshio’s diary and learns that he has a mistress: a devastating revelation that leads to the institutionalization of Miho and also Toshio, and perhaps may have subsequently contributed to the grave illness of their daughter, Maya that resulted in a permanent disability. Attempting to recapture the purity of their relationship and rehabilitate their wounded spirit, Toshio relocates the family to Miho’s home in the insular island of Amami Oshima, where the Shimao family has remained since. From this fascinating introductory framework, Sokurov creates a haunting, sensual, and contemplative portrait of the intimate and profoundly connected isolated lives of the late writer’s surviving family on the remote island. Sokurov’s effective incorporation of allusive sounds – the abrasion of hands against a rough textured wall (as Miho longingly reflects on the passing of her parents decades earlier), the creaking of wood floors (as Maya traverses the staircase), the matting of sisal rug fibers under the weight of footsteps, the crashing of waves against the projecting rocks of the shoreline, the whispered chant of daily prayer, the gentle drops of water on a koi fish pond – create an understatedly powerful metaphor for the resilient, aging widow’s symbiotic, instinctual, and acutely evolved metaphysical communication with her austere environment.
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