Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Tue Sep 15, 2015 2:53 pm 
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Death and romance confusingly treated

Journey to the Shore is a new film by the prolific and uneven but sometimes wonderful Kiyoshi Kurosawa (no relation to the supremely great Akira Kurosawa). It is the story of a woman in love with the ghost of her dead husband. Kurosawa excels at creepiness and horror and ghosts should be right up his alley; moreover he dealt richly with contemporary family life in his atypical but excellent 2008 Tokyo Sonata . But this is a confusing mess. It is adapted from a novel, and one may assume that it's such a failure because of a clumsy adaptation that may be trying to deliver too many elements from the book without convincingly integrating them or maintaining a consistent tone. The narrative is choppy and confusing. It is hard to tell who new characters are and why new settings arise.

The premise is that a widow, Mizuki (Eri Fukatsu), is revisited by her dead husband Yusuke (Tadanobu Asano), and he takes her on a series of adventures while they live in some kind of limbo between life and death. Mizuki a Tokyo resident, is a piano teacher deemed mediocre by the mother of one of her child students but perhaps a fine pianist herself. But this is unclear, and like a lot of the film seems irrelevant to the whole. Yusuke drowned at sea three years ago and eventually we learn he had worked as a dentist.

After Yusuke casually reappears to Mizuki, they live together for some time and travel around to different places where he has lived and worked and has connections from his previous three-years as a spirit making his way to the spirit world, or to Mizuki. Yusuke has worked delivering circulars, and in a restaurant, making giyoza, and out in the country with a rural family. Some of the people, Yusuke tells Mizuki, are "like me," others not, among these families. Two ghosts appear to Mizuki, one of them a young girl who plays the piano, another a boy by a waterfall he says is the way to the other world. She also encounters her father, who died when she was 16 and says he has been watching her. He urges her to leave Yusuke. The finale shows Yusuke about to depart, to celebrate which, he and Mizuki can finally make love.

Each of these segments is like a short story, with the two protagonists in new settings, but they're not presented clearly or engagingly enough and don't add up to a unified whole. Derek Elley of Film Business Asia, an Asian film expert who used to be a principal writer for Variety, thinks that with this film, after his recent flop, Real, Kurosawa "bounces back with one of the strongest films in his up-and-down 30-year-long career." I don't think so. I think Kurosawa's stylish recent TV horror miniseries Penance, a series of separate tales that were nicely unified by a repeated core source-story, was a success, for those who got to see it. But the failed storytelling of Journey to the Shore means he still hasn't made a successful feature since 2008. Journey to the Shore has moments where its attempt to merge everyday and spirit worlds suddenly clicks, and it incidentally provides rarely seen glimpses of contemporary Japanese life. But as a film it never finds its way. All but extreme Kiyoshi Kurosowa fans should avoid.

Journey to the Shore/Kishibe no tabi/岸辺の旅, 127 mins., debuted at Cannes May 2015; also Munich, Toronto, Melbourne. Screened for this review as part of the 2015 New York Film Festival at Lincoln Center.

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