Katatsumori, 1994

While shadows and empty spaces pervade Naomi Kawase’s search for her absent father in Embracing, the images in Katatsumori are tactile and suffused in light – a stark contrast that conveys Kawase’s deep affection towards her 80 year old maternal great aunt and adoptive mother, Uno. In hindsight, the implied coldness of the film’s preface – a shot of a letter written by Kawase’s biological mother expressing birthday greetings, a reminder to be a dutiful daughter to her father at a time of crisis, and a token gift of spending money for the occasion – serves as a foil for the reverence and tenderness that would subsequently define Kawase’s animated gaze. Indeed, in its collage of fragmentary snapshots of everyday life, chance conversations, and moments of levity, Katatsumori is the converse of the terse birthday note from mother to daughter that opens the film – a love letter from child to parent (whom Kawase calls “grandma”) expressed through mundane images and quotidian observation. As in Embracing, Uno is often framed within the context of her garden, linking her love of gardening with her broader role in Kawase’s life as kindred spirits, provider, and protector: a figurative connection between nature and nurture that is underscored in her playful request for Uno’s next pea harvest (preserved from the previous year’s crop) as her present, noting the coincidental convergence of her upcoming 25th birthday and the maturation of the planted seeds in the spring. Visually, Kawase illustrates their intimacy through repeated, often extreme close-ups of her great aunt, recording the idiosyncratic gestures and contours of Uno’s face with the curiosity and fascination for a shared personal history: an implied connectedness (and continuity) that culminates in a shot of Kawase filming Uno while she picks peas from a garden following Uno’s pensive recording over their evolving relationship. Moreover, Kawase introduces the idea of imprint as a reflection of personal legacy, initially, in a shot of Uno scrawling her name and age on a piece of clapboard, then subsequently, in the condensation of Kawase’s handprint pressed against the window as she listens to a recorded message in her great aunt’s absence. Juxtaposed against a shot of the pair playfully engaging in a naming game, the assignment of names represents Kawase’s own journey towards her identity as well, where the arbitrariness of fate is reinforced by an act of mutual validation.

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