EXPECTATIONS: A slow, contemplative romantic journey that eventually makes a reasonable impact. Plus YU AOI!
REVIEW: Kiyoshi Kurosawa is known to the West as a master of horror due to his films like Pulse (Kairo), Cure, Seance and others. I personally disagree, not because his films are bad as horror films (they are certainly not), but he is a master of using stillness and silence to induce tension, whether it is dramatic or horrific. Even in slice-of-life family dramas like Tokyo Sonata, his films can be quite hard to watch. But like every director, they have their misfires. The horror film Loft, which in my mind is underrated and misunderstood, was seen as unintentionally funny while the sci-fi film Real was seen as incredibly misguided and a complete mismatch between director and the source material. Now we have Journey to the Shore (nothing to do with the Chinese fantasy tale, Journey to the West), a contemplative and tender story, based on a novel by Kazumi Umoto, that joins tropes of romance and ghosts. Will this film be a perfect match between Kurosawa and the source material, or will it be another misfire?
Widowed three years ago when her husband drowned, Mizuki (Eri Fukatsu) works as a private piano teacher. Her father died when she was 16 and her mother passed away five years ago. One evening, her husband Yusuke (Tadanobu Asano), a former dentist, appears in her apartment and asks her to come with him on a final journey – to places and people who have meant a lot to him in the past three years – prior to the final passage of passing on. Basically, it is a road movie where we meet various characters, played by a fantastic supporting cast, we find out more about the predicament of the leads as well as character growth.
Director Kiyoshi Kurosawa adapts the story through a naturalistic means as well as adopting his methods of stillness and silence, Journey to the Shore is a touching exploration of love and death. Kurosawa’s direction elevates this film, taking the fantastical plot into heights that ring true to the audience, i.e. how we deal with deaths of loved ones. The world the characters inhabit is hyper-realistic, yet the characters themselves are intentionally lifeless, almost letting go of their spirit and struggling to survive in their conditions. Even little touches i.e. Fukatsu’s hair covering her face and gradually uncovering throughout the film compliment the film in terms of character. The cinematography by Akiko Ashizawa compliments that really well, especially in terms of lighting at certain times of the film when characters reach a certain point in growth, like how Mizuki confronts Tomoko (Yu Aoi) a former girlfriend of Yusuke. The music by Yoshihide Otomo is delicate yet emotionally stirring, but it can be overly used at times, becoming more cloying than rewarding.
The wonderfully talented cast certainly helps the film, with leads Eri Fukatsu and Tadanobu Asano making their keep, particularly Fukatsu. Having done a ton of various roles from comedic roles (Bayside Shakedown) to tortured roles (Villain) and villainous roles (Parasyte Parts 1 & 2), Fukatsu does one of her best performances as Mizuki. The way she portrays her passion and lost love for her husband with such restraint is captivating to watch, like in a scene where she expresses anger to Yusuke for her past relationships. Asano isn’t that far off in his likable yet enigmatic performance that is hiding a past life that is not so easy to like. For the supporting cast, Yu Aoi is fantastic in her one scene as she is confronted by Fukatsu, while acting veterans Akira Emoto and Masao Komatsu, ironically, give much-needed life to their characters, particularly Komatsu, who plays a character who is halfway towards passing on.
As much as the acting and the directorial technique is, the film is not without its flaws. Besides the overuse of music in dramatic scenes, the pacing can be a bit vexing. Although the intent for the pacing is there i.e. in becoming more lively as the film goes on, it can be annoyingly glacial for audiences. The storytelling can be a bit messy in its episodic structure. There is one subplot that involves another couple going through the same situation as the two leads are and it drags the film while driving a point to the audience that they already know. Fortunately, it reaches a powerful ending that is parts beautiful and concise.
Overall, it is a nice change of pace for Kurosawa, as he ventures towards another genre and with an amazing cast to back him up, Journey to the Shore is a touching love story with a twist that shows that Kurosawa still has his directorial skills intact.
Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s assured and composed direction
Production values are great, especially the cinematography
The cast give fantastic performances
Music can intrude to the point of being melodramatic
The storytelling can be a bit messy
The pacing can irk some
Cast: Eri Fukatsu, Tadanobu Asano, Yu Aoi, Masao Komatsu, Akira Emoto
Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Screenwriter: Takashi Ujita, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Kazumi Umoto (novel)