Black-clad and Passing Through

March 5, 2018 § Leave a comment

Maborosi could easily be seen as a film steeped in suicide, sorrow, the finality of death, and the capriciousness of life. And it is, being the story of a seemingly contented man who kills himself, leaving his young wife (and infant son) to contend with the meaning – or be haunted by the meaninglessness – of his out-of-the-blue decision to depart by his own hand.

Hirokazu Koreeda’s debut as a director of fiction certainly looks the part of a film saddled with themes so grim, but in a way that eschews hysterics in favour of a wide-eyed, well-manicured aesthetic. In fact, Koreeda’s particular brand of visual understatement – endlessly attributed to Ozu’s hulking influence on ‘thoughtful’ cinema – works in tandem with one boldly symbolist element: funereal attire. The striking presence of utterly black-clad characters in this movie certainly spells “death” (at least in some circles). Overall, the prevalence of this visual element suggests that death is not simply the termination of life but an inextricable, daresay essential part of living day-to-day. Quite literally, one can only be alive if one can die.

Yet there is another more curious motif running throughout this film, pardon the impending pun. Still and stately as the Koreeda’s camera may be, Maborosi is preoccupied with the process of movement and transition. From trains to toddlers, this film trains its gentle eye on people and objects moving not simply from point A to point B but through the space that lies between these points, that is to say ‘the journey’. As much as the film sympathises with the pain of its widowed protagonist, one has to believe that it and its creators are flirting with a more expansive and philosophical view of the life-death divide, if such a thing even exists; flirting with the queasy possibility that death is not an endpoint but a checkpoint that some individuals simply cannot wait to explore. Interestingly, Koreeda’s sophomore effort, Afterlife, does in fact take a step past this checkpoint, with unexpected developments that only enrich and deepen the mysteries of preceding movie, Maborosi.

* originally published on Fandor Keyframe in 2016

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