Friday, March 13, 2009
A German widower travels to Japan in Cherry Blossoms (Strand Releasing)
A German film that chooses the title Cherry Blossoms (opening March 13 at Landmark's Ken Cinema) is definitely trying to stir thoughts of culture clash or at the very least grab your attention with the unexpected mix of cultures. But Doris Dorrie's film proves to be less about clashes and more about subtle blendings and exchanges between different cultures. The film concerns an older German couple, Rudi (Elmar Wepper) and Trudi (Hannelore Elsner) Angermeier. When Trudi discovers her husband has a terminal disease she hides the information from him and instead urges him to take a trip to visit their somewhat indifferent children in Berlin. Once there, Trudi is the one who unexpectedly dies. This prompts Rudi to the realization that his wife had always wanted to live a different life than the one she had tending to him and their children. One of her dreams was to go to Japan in part because she had always been fascinated by enigmatic and beguiling Butoh dancing.
Cherry Blossoms is an exquisitely and delicately crafted film about love, loss, and a kind of spiritual healing. Filmmaker Doris Dorrie says she was inspired by Yasujiro Ozu's Tokyo Story, and his story of an older couple and their relationship with their estranged children. Her resulting film reveals multiple cultural influences with the Butoh dancing - with its white face paint and stylized movements - managing to combine aspects of both Japanese dance and German expressionism. The scenes involving Butoh are some of the loveliest images in the film, conveying more than any of the dialogue. This is a film of quiet, supple moments and gentle revelations. Nothing is forced or rushed but so much of the story is infused with tenderness whether it's Trudi's concern for her husband or the delicate relationship that develops between Rudi and a young homeless Japanese girl and Butoh dancer (Aya Irizuki).
In the press materials, Dorrie notes that Butoh dancers "are complete outsiders; even in Japan, only very few people who are into art and culture know about this form of dance. The masses don't know about Butoh. It has a lot to do with coming into being and with ceasing to be: to be born and to die. Impermanence is the core issue of Butoh and of the film as well." The Cherry Blossoms of the title also allude to something beautiful yet passing, both provide vivid metaphors for the film.
Cherry Blossoms (unrated and in German and Japanese with English subtitles) occasionally has the feel of Lost in Translation but ultimately it is not as interested in how out of place Rudi is in Japan as it is in finding out how he comes to fit in. Dorrie's film also proves to be a wonderful portrait of love and coming to terms with decisions you've made in life. The cast is also exceptional.
Companion viewing: Lost in Translation, Tokyo Story, 5 Centimeters a Second (a lovely anime tale that's a perfect companion piece), Make Way for Tomorrow, Adrift in Tokyo