Maborosi is the debut feature film from acclaimed director Hirokazu Kore-eda (Nobody Knows, Still Walking). The film is done in the same style of legendary Japanese filmmaker Ozu. It's a quiet meditation on its characters. Executive produced by Yutaka Shigenobu (Air Doll, Still Walking), Maborosi is a film that will divide most audiences with its slow narrative and minimalist storytelling.
The film explores the life of a young woman, Yumiko (Makiko Esumi), who lost her grandmother as a child and whose first husband commits suicide for an unknown reason. She struggles with grief over her memories of her lost grandmother and of her recently departed husband. She does eventually find romance again and gets a new husband, Tamio. She tries to overcome her grief and find solace in her life again while pondering her life's experiences and the journey she has taken.
The film is a rather quiet, solemn, and lyrical examination of the main character's grief and struggles. The film doesn't have much plot at all. Character development is also minimal at best. The film does not aim to tell a straightforward narrative. Rather, the focus on the filmmaking is on the director's framing and the cinematography by Masao Nakabori (Silver Mask).
Some audiences might find the film to be meditative in its style. Others will feel like tearing their hair out by the end with the glacial slow pace. This film is neither great artistically nor a disastrous effort. It's the debut of a director who has become well established for his deliberate slow style but the film lacks a great narrative to accompany the artistic threads of the director's artistic vision.
Based upon the novel written by Teru Miyamoto, the screenplay written by Yoshihisa Ogita (Hazan) is not the focus here. The story is about grief but the film lacks the kind of personal insights you would want for such narrative. It doesn't feel genuine in the way that it should given difficult subject matter. Grief is a difficult subject to tackle in a film and this film's script feels disingenuous.
The music score by Ming-chang Chen (The Puppetmaster, Ripples of Desire) is almost unnoticeable in the background. It neither adds or detracts much from this filmmakers vision or experience. The production design work done by Kyoko Heya (Battle Royale, Shall We Dance?) is impressive for the film's modest production budget. The location scouting was clearly effective as the sets and layout work well. Costumes designed by Michiko Kitamura (Ichi the Killer, Casshern) are also artfully done and feel suited to the characters.
Hirokazu Kore-eda's Maborosi isn't for everyone. The film feels more like a series of artistically framed photographs being played out in slow motion than a feature with a narrative. The film is unsuccessful as fully exploring the depth of the grief of Yumiko. Maborosi would have been a better film had it delved into the genuine emotional toll of losing family by suicide more. Such a serious topic should have had more narrative to accompany it. While the film does explore the topic of grief this is a film which feels too focused on the aesthetics of each shot and frame and less on the emotional core of the lead character's pain.
Presented on Blu-ray in 1080p high definition with an MPEG-4 AVC encoded presentation in the original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 widescreen. This is a solid if unspectacular presentation. In terms of reproducing the film's cinematography this is a faithful release that succeeds at presenting the material as well as it can be. However, the film's soft cinematography makes this a less sharp release. It isn't as impressive as one might hope for but it's also a modest budget Japanese production and is most likely the best release the film will ever see. Taking that element into consideration, the release is still worth a look for those interested.
Maborosi is presented with lossless 16 bit audio. The audio preserves the original sound design with uncompressed PCM stereo audio. This is an average sounding mix with little to no activity even for a front-based surround presentation. The music score has a minimalist backdrop to the film. Dialogue is sparingly used in the film and when it does it is rather soft in reproduction, though it can still be easily understood. The film lacks a high-def audio presentation without having 24 bit depth but is acceptable overall.
English subtitles are included (and can be turned on/off). There were no issues with grammar or spelling.
Audio Commentary with film scholar Linda Ehrlich
Birthplace: Makiko Esumi (30 min.) is a documentary exploring the history of location scouting for the film's production. The lead actress of the film returns to the locations used during the film's production (including an old abandoned home which was discovered and remodeled for the film's primary location). Actress Makiko Esumi reminiscences on the making of the film and the experience of being a part of it. Subtitled in English.
Maborosi is a disappointing film. It lacks the kind of emotional depth needed for this type of story. Director Hirokazu Kore-eda is too preoccupied with visual aesthetics. The Blu-ray release is a modest presentation. There are some interesting supplemental features included to round out the package.