Maborosi, the first feature film by contemporary Japanese maestro Kore-eda Hirokazu.
Yumiko, the protagonist, is a girl when we first meet her. She lives with her parents and grandmother in Osaka. Her grandmother leaves the home to go back to the village she is from before dying. Yumiko tries to stop her but fails. Her grandmother never comes back. She met a boy with a bicycle named Iuko and the story cuts forward to several years when they are married and have a new-born child. Their life is happy and charming until Yumiko becomes a widow. After five years or so a well-wisher of Yumiko finds a match for her named Tamio who lives with his daughter and his father in a village by the sea far away from Osaka. Yumiko moves there with her son to start a new life.
I sat still in my chair even after the end credits were gone and the faint hint of light was clearing out the darkness of the screen. I was in my room and it was a summer evening. Were there few drops of tears filling the corners of my eyes? May be. But it was not for sadness.
If you ask me about some films that have imprinted a permanent ‘thing’ in me, I would instantly name “A time to live, A time to die” and “Dust in the wind” by Hou Hsiao-Hsien. And if you ask me ‘why?’, my answer would be somewhat strange because I’d say they remind me of my childhood and adolescence and the place I grew up. Maborosi was released almost a decade later of these two films. As far as I know, Kore-eda himself is a huge admirer of the Taiwan new cinema and from the very first frame of Maborosi he reminded me of that fact. He shows us the town, the village with recurring shots from the same angle, a classic method and also used in both the films I mentioned earlier. So when you see a street in the film again after some time, it will spark a sense of familiarity in you, as if you have lived a chunk of your life in that place.
Kore-eda holds a love for Ozu and through his body of work he has earned the reputation of being the worthy successor of Ozu. Throughout Maborosi, he used shots, placed his actors in the frames in such way that the film would work out as a homage to Ozu and will glitter with its own brilliance at the same time. The camera often turns its gaze from scenes and just look at empty streets, houses, stores. This made me feel that beyond all the pain, sorrow, joy we just live our life. A life that many of us had lived growing up in towns, villages. Those humble frames, with the sounds of natural world remind us to slow down and look at a calm afternoon in a sleepy locality for a change.
If you know Kore-eda’s works, you know that he creates his characters with utmost love and care, so much so that I’ve even dreamed of living a life created by him. Maborosi is no different from his later works. Kore-eda successfully injects empathy for his characters from the very beginning that I’ve never been able to detach myself from and that’s the beauty of it. There is a scene where Yumiko and Iuko rides a bicycle, a bicycle they had painted together. A green bicycle. The first time we met Iuko in the film as did Yumiko, we saw him with a bicycle. Although we, as the audience, don’t get to know much about Iuko, his memory strikes me every time I see a bicycle later on in the film.
When Yumiko leaves Osaka with her son for the new life, the camera just stood there beside the rail track framing the station. Yumiko slowly walks away in the empty station holding her son’s hand. The camera stood there calmly for more than a minute and at one point we see a boat is passing in the river by the station. I don’t know if it’s intentional or not but at the very beginning of the film when the grandmother left home, Yumiko tried to hold her back by saying that she has to take a ferry to get to Shikoku for which she doesn’t have any money. And for me that boat in that scene was strangely holding the memory of disappearance of Yumiko’s grandmother, a memory which Yumiko herself couldn’t overcome after all the time. Towards the end when Yumiko says to her new husband “I just don’t understand why he killed himself” and her husband replies with a lore about the fishermen, I wished to be with them and to console in all possible way and tell them to carry on with the beautiful life Kore-eda blessed them with.
The film ends on a sunny day. Yumiko’s new husband teaching her son to ride a bicycle, a newly bought green bicycle. Yumiko comes out and sits beside her father-in-law and talks about the beautiful weather. How can we not remember Noriko and her father-in-law from Ozu’s ‘Tokyo Story’? The concluding shot too works almost like an echo of that of ‘Tokyo Story’.
Maybe that’s how films should be made; blending one’s own creative power with the rich cinematic traditions of the country and neighbours. At least Kore-eda does that with almost unique brilliance.