Maborosi (1995) Poster


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Rethinking the art of the camera
jtshaw21 May 1999
I was fortunate to see Maborosi on a large screen at the Joslyn Art Museum. The venue was appropriate, for this film stands as one of the great achievements of the cinema. Indeed, I will go out on a long limb and argue that it deserves comparison to Carl Theodor Dreyer's Passion of St. Joan of Arc. Light, shadow, angle: in my experience these two films apply the most basic elements of cinematography in a most remarkable and brilliant fashion.

Maborosi opens with an astonishing shot, as the viewer looks up from one end of an arching bridge to see a young child following an old woman. The shot is meticulously framed by light posts, giving the impression of a picture on canvas. The camera remains still while the two actors proceed through the scene. The director's brilliant eye for placing everything "just right" immediately catches one's attention. It is a virtuoso shot; and then one's amazement grows as scene after scene continues with no drop off in the careful, artful composition of each image. After awhile, the viewer may become conscious of the camera: it does not move. As each scene commences, the activity occurs within a new, steady frame. I think that the camera moves during a scene only three times in the film, and then only in side-to-side pans. However, I was so enthralled with the film I may easily have overlooked some motion.

The story, concerning a young women's travail in overcoming the grief of her suicided husband, plays out quietly and slowly. The actors speak sparingly, and emotions are primarily portrayed through facial and bodily expression. The impact is large and plumbs depths. If a film like this were made in Hollywood--an utterly absurd idea--I'm sure the characters would be babbling on at each other. Maborosi explores the virtues of silence, patience, and careful attention: behaviors which are not widely cultivated in contemporary cinema, or in contemporary society for that matter.

Maborosi is a film to captivate those who want to see cinema which strives to be more than mere entertainment. It is in every sense an "art film," but in my mind it stands as one of those very rare films which emphasize the artful without a hint of the self-conscious and annoying artsy. A monumental achievement.
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wshelley25 May 2005
The title of the film comes from a Japanese word that loosely translates into "illusory light". A maborosi is an inexplicable mirage that sporadically unveils itself along the waves of the sea, leading many curious sailors to their impending doom. Nobody questions where this mysterious light originates from; nobody wonders why so many men are lured by the maborosi's false promises of otherworldly beauty. The answers are patently unexplainable, leaving no feasible alternative but submissive acceptance and temperate remembrance. There are many aspects of this world whose origins are rationally indecipherable; perpetual mysteries as perplexing as the shifting of the tides or the changing of the seasons, the rising of the sun or the positioning of the stars, the birth of a son or the death of a father. The lesson of the maborosi is quite comforting in its reductive simplicity; there are some tragedies in life that cannot be readily understood or accounted for, but these setbacks should always be treated with a tacit acceptance of the unalterable past, and an unbroken willingness to overcome.

Yumiko is confronted with such a confounding loss following the unanticipated death of her husband, Ikuo, an otherwise cheerful individual occasionally prone to brief interludes of somberness and incredulity. As the film opens, we are shown passing indicators of the memories that will continue to haunt Yumiko long after her husband has departed: the stolen bicycle that the couple re-painted together, the intrusively endless loop of train-tracks that entangle the neighborhood, the dark empty hallways of a home encompassed by unfulfilled hopes and abandoned promises. These are the lingering images of a time long since passed, but never forgotten; the remaining links to a previous era divided by enigmatic fate, replacing the comforts of life's certainties with an encircling string of unanswerable inquiries. As Yumiko struggles to combat her own doubts and insecurities, her regrets and reservations, she is forced to reconcile the unaccountable cause for her grief with the prospect of an eventual regeneration of love and companionship. While Yumiko cannot escape from the memories of her past, she can still find hope in embracing an unforeseen direction, discovering solace and comfort in the arms of another man. But even the blissful serenity of the ocean's archaic blue cannot remove the painful memorials from the deepest recesses of Yumiko's imagination. The crashing of the offshore waves does not represent the progressive cleansing of the past, but the uninterrupted calamity of the storm, suggesting that Yumiko's thoughts are just as violently conflicted as the impartial forces of her surroundings.

Yumiko's struggle to assimilate her ways into an unfamiliar terrain is further compounded by the insolvable puzzle echoing throughout the barren corners of her new home, reverberating off the timeless waves of the indifferent sea. In spite of this continuous anxiety, there are many fleeting moments that would indicate a sense of personal advancement: images of a family finding comfort in each other's tragedy, reciprocally seeking to forge new identities out of an identical past. Some of the film's most memorable scenes occur with Yumiko's new found source of compassion, as Koreeda primarily focuses on the more joyful, celebratory moments of a strengthening bond between intimate strangers. However, a return visit to the city of Osaka brings back a flood of painful reminders, returning Yumiko to her previous state of inescapable depression. The journey further complicates the delicate situation unfolding within the confounding confines of her deepening psychological turmoil, exacerbating the tensity of her gradual acclimatization. Yumiko's inability to fully commit herself to her second husband is a direct consequence of her inability to comprehend the destabilizing effects of her innermost fixation; a persistent uncertainty concerning the nature of death, and a refusal to receptively acknowledge that which we cannot control.

Koreeda's transcendent depiction of the esoteric natural beauty of Yumiko's rural environment is a calculated effort to further reinforce the principle message of the film, which is simply the message of the maborosi. Why does Yumiko's husband selfishly succumb to the unfathomable temptations of the mystic light beyond the horizon? Why does the maborosi indiscriminately engulf the souls of its unwarranted victims? These are questions without answers, frustratingly enlightening reminders of the limits of our mortality, and the fragility of our most basic human certainties. The point of the film, however, is not to mock or ridicule our rational sensibilities, nor does Koreeda intend to paint an exceedingly bleak portrait of untenable despair and incomprehensible misfortune. Rather, the lesson of the maborosi is an alleviating reaffirmation of hope and anticipation, providing an acceptable resolution to an inconclusive affliction, dispensing clues to the solution of one of life's greatest riddles. The maborosi fable teaches us that closure cannot begin without acceptance, and that acceptance is ultimately earned through procession.
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Cinematic EYE CANDY
smakawhat22 June 2002
I don't think I have ever witnessed a film, in which the cinematography was so outstanding that it really was the star of the picture. This film, about a Japanese woman who remaries and moves to a small fishing village after her last husband comits suicide is less about the story but more about its surroundings. Scenes are mostly taken and shot from a distance with little camera movement, in a way they become living paintings. Blues, reds, and greens come in to accent shots, moving vehicles enter to give splash of colour and brilliant contrast. The actors are distant. I couldn't take my eyes let alone blink for the fear of missing something amazing. The simple act of a child throwing a pink ball, to the sunlit rooms that get illuminated, to blue paint in fishing boats it all had me engrossed. I found myself more as a participant in a museum gallery of high art than being engaged in a plot or story not that there isn't one or that it was bad. I have never witnessed a film like this and even found that just the scenes themselves and the background of story brought so much emotion out of me.

A remarkable piece of cinema

Rating 9 out of 10
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Full, full, full of painterly light
theorbys5 February 2001
Steeped in the traditions of the lush visual beauties of Japanese cinema, and influenced by the likes of Taiwanese (?) director Hsiao Hsien Hou (I believe there are several fairly direct quotes) or the luminous cinematography of Bergman's long time cameraman, Sven Nykvist. This film directly mines the visual effects of some of the most glorious European painters of light like Vermeer, Caravaggio, and Georges de la Tour. From the subtitles it seems that MABOROSI means 'strange light' and Kore eda uses almost nothing but strange, rich luminosity to tell his story (although he also gets a fine, somber perfomance from his female lead). Each shot is deeply thought out and composed to the maximum. Literally, every single shot. The results are tranquil and beautiful. The story is as quiet as the light, and probably if you require your film to have a strong direct narrative you should stay away from this as the story is told very subtly using light and almost subliminal sound (it seemed to me there were ocean waves in the sub background even in the city shots, for example). It works great as cinema. I would suggest that you watch at least the first 20 minutes or so again, after watching the whole film. The same motifs cross and criss cross all through the film and it really builds a wonderful texture.

I would recommend this as a double bill with something like the Actor's Revenge by Ichikawa- also deeply steeped in lush visual beauties and light. Or else Angel Dust by Sogo Ishii-a very opposite film full of passion, madness and violence, but where you see that meticulous, relentless search for supercomposition on almost a frame for frame basis. Or lastly, the tranquil, and beautiful, and very painterly Why Has Bodhidharma Left For The East- a Korean film by Bae Yong Kyun and something of a successful Zen meditation. Well one more, Mystery of Rampo-by Kazuyoshi Okuyama- very offbeat with bewitchingly lush visual beauty. (Rampo is Japanese for Edgar Allen Poe and the first Japanese mystery writer adopted Rampo as his nom de plume)
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A Directing Triumph
Mr. Film17 May 1999
Rarely do I rate films so highly, but Maborosi earned it's nine. A large part of my enjoyment of the film was due to the beautiful and subtle directing that seemed to compliment the story itself perfectly. Koreeda is a very promising Japanese director. I recommend this one to all serious movie watchers, and I await his future films.
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A meditation on death
jandesimpson14 January 2003
In 1998 the Japanese director Hirokazu Koreeda astonished those of us who feel passionately about the expressive power of cinema with "After Life" a film about the hereafter that I would claim to be one of the masterworks of the past decade. The effect of this was so mesmerising that for some time I completely forgot about "Maborosi" an earlier work that I had caught up with only a few days before. Although not in the same league, it is worth a look if only to trace the origins of the later piece. Just as "After Life is a meditation on life from the point of view of the dead, "Maborosi" reverses the process and meditates on death from the living's perspective. A young girl feels somehow responsible for the death of her grandmother whom she cannot persuade to return to the family home after she wanders off one day. As a young woman she again is unable to escape a feeling of guilt when her husband is unaccountably struck down and killed by a train. These events happen fairly quickly in the first third of the film. The rest is an elegiac account of her second marriage to a widower with a young daughter and their life together in a remote fishing community as far away from the cramped streets of the city as it is possible to imagine. With the baby son by her first husband now grown to a small boy the new family feels complete. And yet the woman still exists in a state of unease. Although there are no more disasters, there are continual reminders of the frailty of life. An elderly woman, not unlike her grandmother, takes a boat out in a storm but returns unharmed. On a later occasion she watches an anonymous funeral procession which seems held in longshot for an eternity. "Marobosi" which means "The Beckoning Light" - a clear reference to death - is full of the influences of other directors. There is that of Ozu in the many domestic interiors where the camera seldom moves, Angelopoulos in the many long held exterior vistas and even Hou Xiaoxian in the way the audience is made to concentrate hard to work out character reactions and situations given a minimum of verbal and visual information. One curious fact about the film is the way the characters either appear in shadow or middle distance so that their emotions are hard to recognise. In the end this effect of deliberately distancing the protagonists is the film's essential weakness. It gives a sense of detachment and uninvolvement that Koreeda was to overcome triumphantly in the marvellous "After Life".
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it was dark...
benjymouse538 April 2003
Warning: Spoilers
SPOILER I did like this movie... It was pretty, and sad. The original story was written by my mother's fav. writer Teru Miyamoto. His story is often dark, the director has paid excellent attention to the detail of Miyamoto's writing. Miyamoto's writing is almost exactlly the way movie was put... Story was strange, husband commiting suicide w/o reasons... If you like artsy movie, I think you should check it out.
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Delicate & visual
rsillima4 October 2001
With a cinematic eye that harks back to Kurosawa and the first color features of Antonioni (esp. Red Desert & Blowup), Maborosi is one of the quietest and most delicate little films you will ever see. It is the absolute antidote to fare like Die Hard.
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Plot and pacing unlike Hollywood's formula
freakus9 May 1999
And beautiful and fascinating film with a gentle lyric quality. Runs directly counter to the usual Hollywood expectations. The most emotionally packed scene is filmed in extreme longshot! You can't even see the faces of the actors but the location and the action that you can see are enough. If you want to see a standard hollywood formula, then stay away. If you like quiet and moving films shot in entirely new ways (granted the director owes much to Ozu) then get this film.
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Worth loving, worth hating. ...but is it worth 2 hours of your time?
rooprect31 March 2009
Wow, there are some pretty extreme reviews of this film. I've read both the LOVED ITs and the HATED ITs, and I agree with both. So what's the deal? Is this the best film ever, or should it be used as a torture device at Guantanamo Bay?

All I can say is that I experienced moments of both extremes, but in the end I was unsatisfied. It begins provocatively with an interesting flashback, told very poetically through high contrast shots with deep perspective. This sets the tone very nicely and even manages to inject some suspense into the film. But the movie's downfall is excessive, gratuitous repetition in the hours that follow.

The plot develops suddenly within the first 30 mins or so. From then on, don't expect much of a story because the rest is a highly impressionistic mood-type piece with little dialogue and less action. That's not necessarily a bad thing; directors like Ming-liang Tsai (THE HOLE) have pulled it off successfully, but what irked me in this case was the gratuitous repetition. Yes, I know I said "gratuitous repetition" already. Good to see you're paying attention ;)

I counted 5 scenes (long ones) of the heroine sitting in a dark room staring out a window with a ghostly light illuminating her face. It was stirring the first time, but after a few more times it's simply redundant & anticlimactic. Another great image--used powerfully at first but losing its charm after the 3rd or 4th beating over the head--is a far shot of a body of water where our eye is drawn to the reflections of people on the surface. OK, Koreeda, we get the picture; the film is about the contrast between shadows and bright light, reality and deceptive illusion, that which we do not understand vs. that which we *think* we understand. If it were presented more concisely, I would have loved it. But did he really require 2 hours to say it? And if so, could he not have explored it more deeply, rather than leaving us with a somewhat shallow climactic monologue at the end? (I call it a 'monologue', but actually it's only 2 or 3 sentences which summarize the whole point of the film.)

In the end, my impression of MABOROSHI is much like my impression of Koreeda's later film AFTER LIFE (which I think is much better than this); the philosophy is very interesting, there are certain poetic moments that will captivate you, but when the film is over you get the feeling that you've just read a haiku. Nothing more.
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drift through life, beautifully
TanjBennett12 January 2004
A slow paced film that lets you have some empathy for a life changed by inexplicable loss, diverted to unexpected place and contemplation. Despite the intensity possible in the theme, the behavior is a compelling mixture of detachment and continuation of everyday activity, while underneath you can see the memories are unresolved. Some nice acting, especially if you can attune yourself to subtleties of normal life and are not expecting "larger than life" displays. The photography is beautiful and alternates with the acting in setting the mood and being the focus of attention.

I watched the US DVD version, which has somewhat disappointing video quality. You can see the director took some spectacular imagery which I have got to hope came out better on film, because on the DVD the resolution is muddy at times and some of the color is flat. It is just a bit better than VHS. A real pity they could not make a better digital transfer of such a visual artwork. Most of the soundtrack is voices and background environment which fits perfectly with the film, there is one sequence with (very effective) music soundtrack.
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the best and worst of Koreeda
CountZero3137 October 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Maborosi is an intriguing film to come to cold. Very few viewers will have this experience, but it is one I beseech you to bestow on others (you are already a lost cause by virtue of reading this review in this location). The deft hand Koreeda displays in directing actors, the core element of his later successes Nobody Knows and After Life, is seen here in the understated power of the performances from Asano, Esumi and Naito. Asano is especially well employed; given his superstar status, we expect him to hang around till the final reel. His early demise is jarring (remember, we are talking about a viewing of the film untainted by trailers, reviews or DVD case log-lines), not just because of who he is as a Japanese film icon, but because the husband-wife relationship is so finely drawn; two people who have clearly found their soul-mate and inhabit each other so completely. The suicide of Asano's character is unexpected but plausible, shocking but, with hindsight, foreshadowed.

After this point Koreeda becomes self-indulgent, and the powerful momentum of the first act then seeps out miserably as obsessive framing and composition strong-arm out any concern for narrative drive or dramatic tension. The comparisons to Ozu that some reviewers have made are ingenuous; Ozu would hold on a shot beyond a time that most western editors are comfortable with - but there was always a strong narrative justification for doing so. Koreeda does it to imbibe this work with a Japanese aesthetic purely for its own sake, or perhaps because he is so damn proud of his composition. By way of example I offer up the funeral procession that takes place at the end. At one point the mourners trek single file across a beach. Shot at Golden Hour, in extreme long shot, the mourners enter frame right and exit frame left. It takes over two minutes for these minuscule figures to snake across the frame. The procession adds nothing to the story, it reveals nothing about the characters. Watching these people make their way across the beach is an exercise in tedium. It precedes the climactic moment when Esumi reveals to Naito that she is obsessing over the suicide of her first husband. The dialog here is an excellent piece of writing, but the dramatic tension is punctured by shooting in extreme long shot, Esumi and Naito pinpoint silhouettes on the beach delivering what should be the films chief cathartic moment. Inexpicably a fire burns on the beach, as though a funeral pyre has taken place (no such custom exists in this region of Japan, or any region of Japan). The heavy-handed symbolism, the decision to eschew with close-ups for the actors, the ill-disciplined editing - all these elements gang up to sink Maboroshi in a sea of pretentiousness. Interestingly, all three are dispensed with in later works, though After Life would benefit from a 20-minute trim.

The most glaring missed beat is in the one scene of intimacy afforded to the newlyweds. Esumi and Naito sit against the bedroom wall in post-coital satiation. The scene is well-timed: just as we are wondering if the new couple are really getting along, we see that there is genuine intimacy between them. Except they both have their undies on. The sweat is still glistening on their bodies, they have ended up on the floor, and yet we are supposed to believe that they both reached over after the deed was done and pulled on their undies? Koreeda may as well have stuck a boom in the frame, it would have been a more subtle way of puncturing the suspension of disbelief. For a director who places so much stock by naturalistic composition and performances, it is a giggle-inducing miscalculation.

As many have pointed out, Maboroshi is very pleasing on the eye, but even in an art gallery you pause before the best paintings for only so long before moving on. Koreeda needed to move us on at a much brisker pace than he does here. Esumi's dilemma, when it is finally revealed, comes much too late and is far too predictable. The distance between camera and actor ultimately put a distance between me and the story - I couldn't get close to these people. I had this niggling feeling I was watching a director who didn't trust his actors. This is worth watching only for film buffs intrigued by Koreeda's career path - but allow your finger to hover over the fast-forward button...
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Snore Snore
mr0goodtime22 July 2005
I am sure this movie scores artistic points for its camera work and mood, but at the end of a hard days work, few people can stomach the long, plodding and mostly silent scenes in which the story is not advanced any. Sometimes you just sit there wondering how long till the next piece of dialogue. Of course I am not a real movie critic; I just play one and I don't have a luxury of time, nor do I have the obligation to elaborate on the academic aspects of film making. I will grant that some people enjoyed this movie, but for most it needs more plot, the female lead was enchanting, so it certainly would have been nice to expand her role.
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Dark and artistic movie
ebiros225 September 2011
Warning: Spoilers
This was the directing debut for director Hirokazu Koreeda. It was also the movie debut for Makiko Ezumi in the lead role.

Yumiko's (Makiko Ezumi) grandmother ran away from home when she was twelve. She had deep regrets about not being able to stop her grandmother. Yumiko marries Ikuo (Tadanobu Asano) when she was 25. Ikuo somehow reminded her of her grandmother. Yumiko bears a son Yuuichi (Gohki Kashiyama), but one day without any notice, Ikuo commits suicide by walking in front of a train. Few years later, Yumiko is relocated to a town in Okunoto area of Japan. There she remarries with Tamio (Tsuyoshi Naito). Tamio is a widower and has a daughter Tomoko (Naomi Watanabe). Yumiko's memory of Ikuo starts to fade in her newly found happiness, but when she attended her brother's wedding, she starts to be haunted by Ikuo's memory again. Yumiko in her desperation runs away from home, and encounters a funeral where the coffin is carried to the rocks by the sea and is set on fire. Yumiko stands there watching the funeral pyre burning, when Tamio who came looking for her finds her. Yumiko asks Tamio "Why did Ikuo commit suicide ? I still can't understand why !". Tamio answers "My father who was a fisherman told me that he used to see Maboroshi (Illusion) lights in the horizon that beckoned him to come." and tells Yumiko "Anyone has a moment like that.". As if Tamio's words exorcised Yumiko's heart, Yumiko finds peace and happiness with her family again. Following Spring, she was sitting peacefully with Tamio's father by the inner garden of their home, watching the sun go down.

The tone of the story is very much similar to many of the movies made by director Koreeda. It's almost like a darker, rougher version of his more recent movie "Still walking". There are no single point to the movie, except for people lost in their lives (which seems to be Koreeda's theme). His tone is lightening up these days, and his movies have more mass appeal now, but this movie has one of the darkest moods out of all his films. It's also a very difficult film to understand, which I think will limit its audiences.

If you like artsy movies, this movie is for you.
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On the edge of my seat!
DBsox27 February 1999
I found myself on the edge of my seat with this film. Not waiting for any type of revelation, but for some form of a plot to materialize. The plot that finally did appear was paper thin and unsatisfying.

Comments have been made about the Ozu-esque quality of the narrative camera work in this film. I think Ozu had the presence of mind to realize that a 60+ second longshot of a fishing village is just a little too much to ask of the audience. Unfortunately, Maboroshi no hikari has several of these moments, where I found myself becoming impatient for the scenes to end.

Although some of the shots in the film offer a breathtaking beauty, I cannot recommend Maboroshi no hikari (unless you like watching grass grow.)
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I Didn't Get It
gbheron13 February 1999
I read all the glowing reviews and saw how most people voted, but forgive me, this low-brow movie guy just didn't enjoy this at all. Just think if Jerry Brukheimer or John Woo reshot the'd be over in 10 minutes.

Not that I enjoy the 90s style of MTV pacing, but at least give me a story...this movie almost didn't have any as far as I could tell. The actors bordered on being superfluous.

Would it be a movie if it were just interesting photography? And would all the people that gave this film a 10 be so inclined to do so again if the photography were actually CGI from the bowels of a graphics computer?
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great but boring
patricksf29 July 2002
all the previous comments about why this film are great are correct, but he left out one thing. BOOOOOOOORRRRRRRINNNNNNG!!!!!. this movie is so damn slow. the cinematography is really great, but great cinematography alone does not an entertaining movie make. if you plan to watch this movie, drink lots of coffee and prepare for the long haul. yes, and do watch it on the largest screen possible so that the nice visuals keep you from falling asleep. if you want practice watching the movie, just set up a slideshow of japan on your computer and try watching it for 10 minutes.
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Quiet and small in presentation, monumental and reverberating in impact
alice liddell8 December 1999
Stunning further evidence that AFTER LIFE's director, Kore-eda, has what it takes to become a genuine master. Difficult, in the style of Hsiao-Hsien Hou - excessively formal, little camera movement, music, even dialogue - but rich in emotional rewards. Rare visualisation of female experience in contemporary Japanese cinema, which owes much to Hollywood melodrama, as well as Mizoguchi. Shots of unparalelled beauty, both vast landscapes and cramped interiors, all in the service of a character unable to express her trauma in public.
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I will more lovin' it if I watch this first
fluffset22 January 2020
This is the first feature film of my favorite japanese director, Koreeda-sensei. Everyone have already said it, the cinematography is really beautiful. No one can deny this. Its a feast for our eyes. Its so freaking epicly beautiful. But you know, for a movie, I prefer story more than cinematography. I've watched all of Koreeda-sensei movies, love all of them except Distance & After Life that I find so boring. I really really love Still Walking, After the Storm & Shoplifter. I hope his new movie, The Truth is good too. Its sounds stupid to compare his first movie with later movies because he is surely improve over time. For Maborosi, I get it that he wants us to understand the wife's feeling. I get it. But for me, its like 80% silence documentary about seashore, 20% story. Wonder how the novel is.
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Beautiful and comforting
noitsme_habibi13 October 2002
One of the most moving films I've seen. So very beautiful, so very sad. The woman's sadness is not expressed in any great gesture or any close-up, but in the way she stares out over the sea, or carefully handles objects in the house, or even in the way a light shines on the street, as a new life is pieced together around her with patient deliberation. And then, as you've immersed yourself in the delicate pace of the film, sensing every subtle shift of mood, the beauty itself becomes a source of immense comfort, for the viewer as much as for the disconsolate woman. Moved me to tears.

Do see the director's later movie, After Life, too. Also beautiful, surprising, and funny even, too. He must be the gentlest soul.
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So that's what she looks like
Gyran5 April 2002
I feel the same way about this film as I do when I get back my holiday snaps and I think, idiot, why didn't you remember to turn on the fill-in flash. Eyes are more adaptive than cameras and can easily make sense of a scene that is half in light and half in shade but when you photograph that same scene you usually need some artificial light to make sense of it. Koreeda seems to have eschewed any sort of artificial light in making this film. Even the external scenes are usually murky because he chose to film when the sun was not shining. The internals mainly consist of a very bright light, usually from a window, with the rest of the shot in darkness. The characters move around in the gloom or, if they stand in front of the window, you see them in silhouette. Yes, you are sometimes reminded of the Dutch interior school of painting, but Koreeda achieves none of its subtlety. Koreeda is also a behaviourist director. You are given no inner monologue, you have to work out what people think from what they say and how they behave. Unfortunately, the characters say very little, particularly Yumiko the female protagonist. And you can't work out much from her behaviour either, she is nearly always in medium or long shot and usually silhouetted. I watched this film for 110 minutes and then turned to this site. When I saw the publicity still at the top of the page I thought: ‘So that's what she looks like'.
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A deep exploration into life and loss through the eyes of a wife and mother
jen-lynx14 June 2015
Warning: Spoilers
When I first started on the path to learn about cinema, a friend noticed and started giving helpful suggestions and useful information. He also gifted me a copy of "Maborosi" (1995), by Kore-eda Hirokazu, known in the US as Hirokazu Koreeda. I finally found the right time to sit down and watch this film, and all I can say is, what a beautiful gift it was.

This film is a work of art, a slow painting of light and shadow, of the play of seasons, and the journey one young woman makes from joy in life to sorrow in death and back again, sort of. Ikuo and Yomiko are childhood friends who grow up together, get married, and start a family. Through a tragic accident, Ikuo is killed and Yomiko and her infant son must go on without him. She remarries and attempts to find answers to her unanswerable questions in an isolated seaside village with another widower and his young daughter.

There is poetry in the cinematography of this movie and this story. There is symmetry and slow, rhythmic movement, extreme long shots, many with no movement at all. They give one a moment to pause and reflect. It is completely opposite the whirlwind we call life of alarms, and soccer practices, and time cards, and business lunches. "Maborosi" has very little dialogue, but it works because words aren't always necessary or even desired. There are shared moments, looks between one another, glimpses of daily life, the sounds of the surf, and a few words which go a long way. Stairs, trains, and windows are predominant themes. It is a fascinating glimpse into rural Japanese culture. Finally, the soundtrack is brilliant and is the perfect emotional backdrop to the story. It was so sad, but not without moments of hope. I'll definitely revisit this gem.
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This movie is illegal torture
vick_and_his_bitches20 January 2006
If we capture Osama Bin Laden, where making him watch this movie for as long as he lives. All the joy in life he'll have is hearing the tape rewind. Watching paint dry is more fun. Id rather watch the hairs on my legs grow then watch this movie, because there is actually a little excitement in that. Oh my god, i almost died watching this movie. My breath was getting shorter because my brain was frying in my head. I couldn't escape, the clasp of this movie was too strong. It pierced my eyes like a thousand scorpions. This is THE WORST MOVIE ever made, ever. I would rather watch the world tournament of quiet game then watch this movie. This movie was so depressing, i saw people about to slit their wrists halfway through. The music made you want to barf, because all it was was sad, depressing demented music that made you want to jump out the 10th floor window.
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Superfluously Superb?
WhimsicalVonia30 April 2018
Warning: Spoilers
Maborosi (Japanese: Maboroshi no Hikari (Phantasmic Light)) (1995) Director: Hirokazu Koreeda Watched: February 2018 Rating: 6/10

This is a film of contradictions. To begin with, everything I love about the film seems eerily reminiscent of my cons list. Koreeda uses darkness to show the light in life. It is death that eventually forces renewal.

The plot is simple. Yumiko is but a young bride when her husband, an ostensibly cheerful Ikuo, supposedly commits suicide. She is told that he deliberately walked in front of a train, but the body is unidentifiable. Yumiko, only 25, is left with a newborn son, Yuichi. She quickly falls victim to a dark depression, even neglecting Yuichi. Eventually, a matchmaker friend arranges a marriage with a widower and his daughter in a faraway seaside town. Cheerlessly, Yumiko moves from her home in Osaka to begin life anew. We watch as she struggles to find life again.

Yumiko, the star of our show, is played by real-life model Makiko Esumi. Even so, Koreeda does not flaunt this. In fact, he does the opposite- obscuring her with angles and shadows. Much of the film is carried by her facial expressions and superb performance. For example, when the older woman returns, alive, from being lost in the storm, you can almost feel Yumiko's bitterness. When the knock comes after many hours of waiting- an uncannily similar situation to the one she gets in regards to the late husband- you can see in her otherwise expressionless face that she expects the same bad news. Koreeda chooses not to show her face for a while, and when he does, her expression is not one of relief or pleasure.

The cinematography is gorgeous. Local fishing town, the sea. Countryside. Weather. Long hallways. Dark rooms. Stairs. Trains. Windows. Koreeda's idol was Ozu. This is obvious to anyone who knows the director. Tatami shots. Very little dialogue. Minimal use of music. Too much pretty, not enough brains?

Inside scenes are all bleak and dark. One scene was fifty seconds of complete darkness, as we waited for Yumiko to let in light from a window. Most scenes filmed inside are cloaked in darkness and shadows. In fact, when I first started watching, I thought there was something wrong with the version I was watching, the quality seemed so low. But I guess it was simply the film Koreeda used and the effect he wanted to have. It also might have been the version in this country. Does this make it beautiful, though?

The pacing is not ideal. Some parts interesting, but overall this is not something you watch expecting to be enthralled. Its merits are inconspicuous, its charm subdued. This is all true, up to a point. Part of honing a craft is knowing when more is not better; acknowledging that some things must be left on the cutting room floor, no matter how precious. Unlike his later films, where Koreeda finesses this skill, he seems to get carried away here. Whereas his mentor Ozu would have similarly long silences and shots, they held meaning. Here, the camera often stays focused a moment too long- and for no other reason than it might be pretty. Similarly, angles are practiced that serve no purpose in furthering the film. As prepossessing as it is, at some point, it became superfluous.and considerably disadvantageous.

From the final scene, a long shot (not only in angle, but also in length): "I just. I just don't understand. Why did he kill himself? Why was he walking along the tracks? It just goes around and around in my head why do you think he did it?" "The sea has the power to beguile. Back when Dad was still fishing, he saw a maborosi- a strange light- far out to sea. Something in it was beckoning to him, he said. It happens to all of us."

Well, what is a maborosi? Actually spelled "Maboroshi", literally "phantasmic light", but best translated as "a trick of the light". It is most often used as a metaphor for chasing a ghost in your past; mental ghosts. From what I understand, a charmingly untranslatable word.

And when we understand this, the beauty of this film is that much more appreciated. Because that is what embodies the entire film. Through its simplicity, one must make the effort to understand its message. A film about trying to understand the inexplicable, but finding out that sometimes some things must be left unexplained. There is a serenity in accepting this; in finding the silver lining. #FilmReview #Koreeda
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a resolute harbinger of a promise that the best is yet to come
lasttimeisaw15 November 2017
MABOROSI, which means "phantasmic light", is Japanese cinema gradualist Hirokazu Koreeda's feature debut, a minutely restrained drama charting the aftermath of abrupt bereavement.

At first glance (and with some acquired taste), Ozu's influences writ large in the picture, from inanimate pillow shots, natural light (or no ancillary light at least) setting, to its medium-shot, static camera angle, perpetually at a remove, but often lingering longer than usual, with the story's dramatis personae, and Koreeda goes ever further, defiantly ghettoizes our protagonist Yumiko (former volleyball player Makiko Esumi's screen debut) in taciturnity, while the narrative languidly ambles around a nearly ritualistic, quotidian quietness.

In the preamble, Yumiko's grandmother decides to die in her hometown and leaves by foot, never being found again, Yumiko is guilt-ridden because she didn't stop her, and it actualizes as a recurring dream following her into adulthood, contentedly married with Ikuo (Asano), they have just welcomed an infant boy into this world, supposedly it should be a new chapter in their placid but convivial life, yet as augured by an earlier scene where Yumiko meets Ikuo for the first time on the night of her grandmother going missing, Yumiko comes for in another unanticipated bereavement when Ikuo commits an apparently unpremeditated suicide, leaving no explanation behind, which vehemently shatters Yumiko to the core, yet pertaining to Oriental philosophy and decorum, grief and perplexity are seething all too quietly under her outwardly collected mien. Koreeda circumspectly rams home that it is an inward process, time might heal her, or not.

A few years later, when the bicycle Ikuo stole and rode is covered with verdigris, it is the time when Yumiko marries into a new family with her son Yuichi (Kashiyama), transferring themselves to a sleepy coastal village, Yumiko's new hubby Tamio (Naitô), a widower with a young daughter (there is kindred spirit one can bank on) welcomes them to the household and domestic bliss restarts in a routine orbit with formality/intimacy (the latter is contingent on seasons) and bucolic/seaside idyll, all in an unperturbed pace under the adornment of Taiwanese composer Chen Ming-chang's lyrical, dirgeful incidental music. Only a return visit to attend her brother's wedding insidiously compounds Yumiko's discomfiture, she cannot find a closure to let go of the past.

In view of that Japanese is a people who has a perverse propensity of mythologizing suicide, Koreeda's answer to Yumiko's ingrown quest (culminating in a stunning sequence when she follows a cortège near the mudflat, and betrayed by the film's title) predictably partakes of a numinous slant through Tamio's mouth, and, to a certain degree, it leans to an arbitrary placebo aiming for a sigh of resignation in face of the unknown, one wonder whether Yumiko can come to terms with it, as cool as a cucumber she is, Esumi's performance often belies a trace of self-imposed effort.

Alas, to all intents and purposes, Koreeda's maiden work is a laconic but poetic essay, a tasteful if none-too-absorbing artifact, but mostly confidently, a resolute harbinger of a promise that the best is yet to come, which in retrospect, is indubitable.
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