Maborosi, 1995

An elderly woman (Kikuko Hashimoto) abstractedly walks down the sidewalk of a high traffic bridge, as she often does, determined to return to her childhood village. Her granddaughter chases after her, imploring her to come home, but she continues to walk on. When evening comes, the grandmother’s idiosyncratic ritual becomes cause for concern when she does not return, and cannot be found. The girl, now a married woman named Yumiko (Makiko Esumi), continues to have recurring dreams of their last encounter, and is plagued with the guilt of her inability to stop her grandmother from leaving. She wakes her husband, Ikuo (Tadanobu Asano), who soporifically tells her to go back to sleep. Perhaps, her grandmother will return in her dream.

Yumiko and Ikuo lead a happy, content life with their newborn son in a modest apartment in a working class section of Osaka. When his bicycle is stolen, the carefree Ikuo, in turn, steals a bicycle from a rich neighborhood, and the young couple spend the evening repainting it. Yumiko notices Ikuo’s seemingly melancholy, but he dismisses the sentiment by rationalizing that the sight of a colleague’s top knot – a vestige from his sumo wrestling days – saddens him. One day, Ikuo returns home with the bicycle to protect it from the coming rain, and walks back to work. That evening, a policeman knocks on the door to inform Yumiko that a man walking on the tracks was killed by an oncoming train in an apparent suicide. It was Ikuo. For the second time in her young life, Yumiko is faced with a sudden, incomprehensible loss. For the sake of their son, Yumiko finds the courage to persevere, and after several years, accepts a marriage arrangement with a widower named Tamio (Takashi Naito) who lives in a small coastal town. Yet, despite the passage of time and distance from her hometown, one question continues to haunt her: Why was Ikuo walking on the tracks?

Maborosi is a visually serene, poignant, and honest examination of loss and grief. Using the recurring imagery of rectangular and framed compositions, static camera, and warm, natural lighting, Hirokazu Kore-eda pays reverent homage to the indelible, humanist cinema of Yasujiro Ozu. Similar to the character, Julie, in Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Blue, Yumiko’s impassive countenance is a facade for a well of unreconciled emotions. Kore-eda does not dwell on the moment of tragedy, but on the quiet observation of the process of healing: the children’s run through the woods, the family eating watermelon on the back porch; Yumiko and Tamio sharing an intimate moment. How does one find closure when the answers remain elusive? For Yumiko, the answer lies in courage, compassion, and patience.

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