Most things in life have no rational answers, which is why life is full of so many questions. Even events which we feel are rational only look that way from a distance; up close, living in the moment, they make very little sense. Irrationality has its own logic, however, and if we were to see life through its lens, more of it would be understood by us.
One of the great strengths of Maborosi is that it understands this truth.
The movie hinges around a husband’s probable suicide. We never know for sure. Our confusion is shared by Yumiko (Esumi Makiko), the young wife who is left behind. In incredibly touching scenes at the beginning of this film, we see how much they love each other, and yet there is some distance between Yumiko and Ikuo (Asano Tadanobu). In one scene, Yumiko looks at her husband through the glass door of the factory where he works. In the section on the DVD labeled “Kore-eda Hirokazu,” the director explains that he wanted to show the love they feel for each other, while at the same time showing “the distance that separat[es] them.” And yet nothing we see, and nothing Yumiko sees–even on the day that her husband dies–would make us believe that he wished to kill himself.
Instead of this issue being resolved later in the film, it grows in complexity. At a bar where they used to frequent, the owner tells Yumiko that Ikuo came in on the day he died, acting as cheerful as ever. This is years later, after Yumiko has remarried, via an arranged marriage, and moved to a remote fishing village with her son. Her new husband seems to be a kind and caring man, but she is still haunted by memories of her former husband, and how he died.
Even more so than in Nobody Knows, Kore-eda Hirokazu, in his first feature-length film, shows his debt to Ozu Yasujiro. Shots are held for a little longer than characters inhabit the space. Pillow shots are placed here-and-there between scenes. The camera rarely moves.
In addition, Kore-eda shows his familiarity with the movies of Hou Hsiao-Hsien and Edward Yang, having directed a documentary about them in 1993 entitled When Cinema Reflects the Times–Hou Hsiao-Hsien and Edward Yang (Maborosi was released in Japan in 1995).
Why do I mention this? What Yang and Kore-eda (and, I imagine, Hou) have in common is an ability to stop time in their films so that the audience can reflect on what is happening in a scene, what it means to the characters, and what it means to themselves. I found my mind wandering often in this film, but in directions that the film wanted me to go in. Also, because we believe Ikuo is just as wonderful as Yumiko believes he is, and because we see how happy they are together, we feel the same sense of loss–throughout the movie–that Yumiko feels. Her pain, her inability to understand why her husband was walking between the tracks that day, why he didn’t turn around when the whistle blew, why he left her with a three-month-old boy to raise alone, mirrors our own pain, our own inability to comprehend not just what we’ve seen on the screen, but what we’ve experienced in our own lives. Life often doesn’t make any sense. Or doesn’t seem to, for there is always an explanation for what has happened. It’s just not often a rational one.
Note: All names in this review follow the traditional placement of the family name first, with the exception of Edward Yang.
The trailer for Maborosi:
Siskel and Ebert’s review of the film: