B&W (spoiler free)
from a novel by Soseki Natsume: in 1912, in Tokyo, the emperor
Meiji dies after a long uncurable sickness... the admiral of his
fleet commits suicide with a gun, on the day of his funerals,
45 days later. we learn that this admiral, humiliated by a severe
defeat 35 years earlier never found a decent way to make it up,
the death of the emperor was the perfect excuse for his suicide,
in honor of his name. this is the end of the Meiji era, a difficult
step for Japan.
from this historical fact, and around it, the film portrays the
psychological investigation through the life of a mysterious aging
university professor, Nobuchi who seem so detached from his lovely
and caring wife, and his own life. He visits his best friend's
grave, Kaji every week, and refuses to go with his wife. she ressents
being ignored and blames herself. only one young student, Hioki,
visits him, and seems to get in touch with him.
the story uses clever flashbacks, unveiled drops after drops,
to reveal more of this silent man's existential pain. the storyline
covers his life before Kaji's death, while they were students,
after his marriage, intricated into a few days of present life
when the emperor and Hioki's father die. through laborious scarse
confessions, memories or distant letters monologue, we'll learn
all about the curious attitude of this man who appears to all
eyes to be successful, married to a beautiful wife in a perfect
couple, or how the past can play an overwhelming role to ruin
a whole life.
unfolding the reasons why the lasting presence of this dead friend's
memory stands between a man and his wife who love each others
more than anything is a bittersweet shattering drama shining with
many powerful images. even with hindsight on his life, the mystery
remains... this is very disturbing. but we understand why the
death of the emperor illustrate this meticulous character study.
this is also about the quest of 2 men for the quintessence of
life, between meditation or humanity, the complex bound of friendship,
the matter of honor, the weight of the past, and guilty love :
all things that make life impossible, the mechanism of the Heart.
undersignificant narrative cues, meaningful scenes and images,
telling some, calling for questions, later explained by other
whispering images... i loved it. the mystery sets in because we
find the behavior of this couple rather peculiar on the verge
of uncredibility. the relationship between the characters is confusing,
what they say contradicts what we observe. the characters largely
discuss the distance between ideals and actions. we need to know
more, and with each new clue we realize the mystery lies somewhere
else. what matters is not what happened, but why.
Ichikawa portrays a close family circle, more oriented on the
existential exposition (in a very Bergman way: Wild Strawberries
1957), than in the social way as Ozu used to (Early Spring 1956,
Tokyo Twilight 1957). i cant say it's as powerful as either filmmakers
i mentionned but it's certainly an excellent mix of both! the
deconstruction of Resnais comes to mind too (Muriel 1963), not
as experimental formaly tho.