Grief is always a powerful emotion and many directors have approached the subject in a variety of ways. For Hirokazu Koreeda, Maborosi introduces the audience to the unexplainable element of grief and the oversevrant stylings of his filmmaking. Built as merely a passenger, rarely an active participant in the devastation of Yumiko’s (Makiko Esumi) simple life. It’s Koreeda’s first narrative feature in his career and his knack for directness shows up in his first scripted film.
In the first fifteen minutes, we watch pieces of Yumiko’s nightmares. The scene with a younger Yumiko watching helplessly as her grandma fades into the ether. Next, her husband Ikuo (Tadanobu Asano), a bike thief mesmerized by the speedy Japanese passenger trains, makes Yumiko’s void in her heart a gaping disaster. Kore-eda’s insistence on harsh realities and distant storytelling.
Even so, the beauty of the experience is captured on camera. Cinematographer Masao Nakabori paints isolation in dark color grading, empty compositions, and still movement in the scene. At times, it’s purely observant to Yumiko and doesn’t interfere with her pain. The complexity of the script comes out in the visual look of the film, as much of the story is told through subtle expression. For example, the last shot of Ikuo in the film evokes Gene Kelly in Singing in the Rain and has a strong visual language.
However, it’s not going to be a film for everyone. Even for Kore-eda, who’s known for his contemporary style of detachment, it’s him at his lowest in terms of the vision. Moreover, the editing mixes in long interior shots of Yumiko that rarely cuts. These shots are deeply haunting and create a bleak atmosphere, yet they’re extraneous in the direction. Regardless, one of Kore-eda’s most freeing character studies of his career.