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2018年9月9日 星期日

Another Tremor from Hokkaido: Kita no sakuramori(北の桜守) Sakura guardian in the North

On 6th September Hokkaido was devastated by a 7.6 Richter scale earth tremor which left a dozen dead, more than double that number missing, some 150 injured and 3 million people without electricity. Today, the effects of another kind of tremor from that part left me completely dumbstruck: I felt the combined power of sight and sound, from Yojiro Takita, a veteran director who took 7 years to produce a film which leaves one completely shell shocked with emotional dynamite within the cosy darkness of a movie theatre. The film is called "Kita no sakuramori"(北の桜守), in English, Sakura Guardian in the North. 

I was totally unprepared to receive the shock, having just seen one previous film from this director, Departures,《送行者:禮儀師的樂章》which won an Oscar as the best foreign film  in 2009. Like the previous film, it's about a universal theme; the emotional bond between a son and an estranged parent. Whereas the previous film was about reconciliation between a son and a father, this film is about that between a son and his long lost mother. Between the start of the film and its end, we were exposed to a piece of Japanese history, a parallel stage play, the breathless beauty of Hokkaido, a tale of undying love of a widow for a solider husband who died in a forced labor camp in Siberia, an unrequited love between her and first her benefactor, a blackmarket rice dealer during the last stages of the Second World War who later became a disappointed suitor and now the proprietor of a huge and prosperious logging enterprise and Mari (Ryoko Shinohara) the beatiful modern day American-born Japanese wife of the widow's son Shujiro Ezure  (played by Masato Sakai) (now the CEO of the first American hot-dog chain to open in Sapporo, Hokkaido), completely baffled by the apparently inexplicable behavior of her husband, once the latter suddenly got news of his mother., now forced to close down her illegal traditional  style Japanese restaurant in Abashiri ,in the remote north part of Hokkaido.

  The film opens with various scenes in a dance theatre featuring the widow, Tetsu Ezure(played by the 73-year-old movie diva Sayuri Yoshinaga who seems totally untouched by time), we see how her husband Yokujro (Hiroshi Abe) who  was forced to leave the then Japanese colony Sakhalin island to fight the Russians when the Soviet Union suddenlly declared war on Japan in 1945, leaving her behind with two young kids Shujiro and his elder brother. Before he left, he told his elder son to take care of the mother and to rejoin him in another town at the next full moon when the Sakura blooms. We hear singers dressed in American style Protestant church choir chanting a song in praise of the Sakura when it first bloomed in Sakhlain with seeds brought there by Yokujiro, when the film begins,with neighbors staring in open-mouth wonder at that amazing sight. 

Then the film flashes back and forth between 1945, when the story begins and 1971, when the story really develops. We see how during the war,a tired looking etsu dragged her even more exhausted son in the wilderness until the driver of a lorry passed by, took pity on the down out starving pair, still trying heroically to refrain from begging for food, how instead of raping her as suggested by his lorry attendant, he gave her a job as a porter gathering bags of blackmarket rice thrown off a passing train, how fellow students taunted Shuijiro as the child of a family selling black market rice in the playground, how Tetsu asked him to fight back, how she lost her elder son who drowned whilst trying to grab at a lifebuoy for her and his younger brother Shuijro when the ship which took them from from Sakhalin to Hokkaido was torpedoed, how he lent her money to open her humble restaurant, how Shuijiro, who thought that he had been abandoned by his mother once he reach adolescence, would still abandon everything once he got news that her mother, now suffering from occasional dementia, got into trouble: wandering off at night to seal up a hole in a sakura tree in the municipal park in Sapporo with rice paste and black ink to protect it from the cold, how she causes inconvenience to her uncomprehending daughte-in- law when she mistook others's shoes for her own after she left the changing room in a department store, how she causes smoke in the son's little yard to the complaints of his son's neighborwhilst trying to cook some sashimi with wood fire to make it taste better, how she takes some green onion from a vegetable stall, thinking that she could have it on credit  as in her native town etc and how Mari could never understand why Shuijio would abandon his work to be with her on the slightest news that she needs help. 

It was a most Japanese film. We experience in concrete the symbolic values of the Japanese sakura: its quiet and unassuming sturdiness, it steadfast faithfulness, its unpretentious dignity and how the sakura would burst into full bloom with its evanescent and fragile beauty, and how its delicate petals would gently rain down from the tree with the force of the sligtest spring wind and drifting in the air, year after year and yet somehow never quite far away with a tinge of quiet melancholy and in particular its intensely personal l meaning for the Ezure family--the heart-breaking longing for a family reunion which is forever stlll to come, perhaps, realizable only in a different kind of land, perhaps another world, a world of love, of tenderness and of dreams... .  

I like the way Yojiro Takita presents his theme, with images, with sparing speech, with carefully composed shots and with superb use of lights etc. Especially touching is the way  he shows how Tetsu has learned to talk to her own image in the mirror in her loneliness in the long years her son has left for America to seek his fortune, the way she kept returning to various spots which had emotional meaning for her in her unfortunate past, the way she talks to the sakura tree, as if it had ears to listen to her, the way she would struggle up a steep slope to give thanks to the local god at a shrine perched high up the mountain of Abashiri overlooking Sakhalin that she and her family is still surviving despite all difficulties, how during her last climb, she was joined by Shojiro and how when the film ends,  she was found by her former suitor to be working in a sakura tree farm in Hokkaido two years after she rejoined her son and then left without a word and how when she was found again, through a tip from her former suitor and benefactor, Mari appearing with a newly born baby, standing next to Tetsu's former suitor and the neighbor who betrayed her husband as part of the group of 15 Japanese prisoners of war in Siberia, who later let her off when she was caught during a police raid of the rice smugglers in one of their routine operations. It's a celebration timmrsed completely into the sound of the beautiful song in praise of the sakura, a hymn to the final reconciliation between mother and son and all who had ever a part in their lives. At that moment, she saw again  the image of her long dead husband, with his two favorite sons, one on each side, walking towards her, his face beaming with joy. She had no need for anything else under the blooming sakuras.

The acting was superb, the cinematography likewise .The rhythmic motion of the troupe of dancers moving gracefully on the stage in silence marks out various episodes in Tetsu's past,  interweaving them seamlessly into each other and confers a unique kind of artistic unity to this most moving hymn on celluloid to the unreakbale bond between mother and child. .If Yojiro Takita has shown how he could titillate our senses in his former  series of pink films, he demonstrated in this 126 minute-epic how he could equally draw tears from the most hardened hearts without the slightest difficulty. 

2018年1月1日 星期一

Colors of the New Year (新年色彩)

It's been a while since I posted anything in this blog. But I haven't got a call from the Grim Reaper yet. If there's been  a complete blank out here, I have every reason to shift the blame on to the shoulders of the likes of Spinoza, Leibniz, Kant,Hegel, Husserl, Heidegger, Foucault, Derrida and Deleuze. But the lure of lights, shadows, colors and forms remain as fatal as ever and the clicks of the camera of that black box called the camera remain music to my ears.  
The new year always arrives with  mixed feelings for me: the past is gone and future is yet to come and it's understandable that many feel that that it's as good a time to make a new start as any other. And so, with trepidations and fumbling fingers, I clicked the "write" icon and tried my best to recall how to put together a new blog again
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It's mid-winter but it doesn't stop the silent explosion of life.

2017年7月14日 星期五

Getting Acquainted with the WKCD (認識西九文化區)

I've heard and read bits and pieces about what's come to be called the West Kowloon Cultural District (WKCD) for a while but I never visited the site after actual construction of the relevant facilities began in earnest. Yesterday, I did so.


I first had to cross the highway serving the Western Harbour Crossing tunnel from the Kowloon Station of the MTR's Tung Chung Line to the seafront