Maborosi (1995)

Following Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Cannes Palme d’Or winner and Oscar-nominated Shoplifters, UK audiences now get a chance to see the director’s earlier work Maborosi for the first time.

Life goes on

by Chris Drew


CAUTION: Here be spoilers

We first meet protagonist Yumiko as a child (Sayaka Yoshino) in a harrowing opening scene. Yumiko’s elderly grandmother (Kikuko Hashimoto) has left the family home with Yumiko racing after her and the two meet on a bridge. Yumiko desperately tries to persuade her to come home but her grandmother is determined to travel and die somewhere else. Yumiko can only look on helplessly as her grandmother slowly disappears off into the distance.

This loss, and burden of responsibility that Yumiko – played sensitively by Makiko Esumi – carries, stays with her as we follow her through two later time periods as an adult. Yumiko marries Ikuo (Tadanobu Asano) and has a son Yuichi (Goki Kashiyama) but another sudden loss has a profound effect on her and changes the direction of her life.

Yumiko’s story is told quietly, often with little or no dialogue, at a languid pace with Kore-eda leaving the viewer to simply watch Yumiko’s life unfold. The repeated patterns and rhythms of daily routines are interspersed with calm and meaningful moments of reflection.

Long, lingering shots see characters disappearing out of view down a station platform or arriving home and emptying out of their car before slowing heading up to the family home.

An emotional journey back to a former home is movingly told, while scenes of young step-siblings innocently bonding create rare feelings of joy. A comment made to Yumiko in the market about the effect of bereavement on a child’s life has a profound effect on her.

Early on, evening trains are frequently seen rattling by in the background which proves to be a dangerous harbinger of later events. In a sequence that becomes gripping as it unfolds, an older character (Mutsuko Sakura) disappears, which has Yumiko fearing a repeat of her childhood loss. A beautiful slow, long take creates a haunting visual image for the unspoken grief she still feels from her past.

The Japanese title Maboroshi no Hikari can be translated as ‘trick of the light’, which perhaps captures the ethereal and otherworldly feel of this understated and reflective film quite aptly.

Maborosi is released at BFI Southbank and selected cinemas on 26 April 2019 in the UK.

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