Memories of Yamada
Movies are getting serious now – at least where year-end awards competitions are concerned – and as distinctive films of purpose and promise queue up to be screened at festivals and build up word of mouth and critical buzz, it was announced this week that Japan’s official submission to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for 2016 Best Foreign Language Film Oscar® consideration is veteran director Yôji Yamada’s 83rd film Nagasaki: Memories of My Son (2015), or as it’s known in its native land, Haha to Kuraseba/Living with My Mother. The screenplay by Yamada and current collaborator Emiko Hiramatsu is a moving “ghost story” set three years after the World War II-ending atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki, depicting the somber yet mystically uplifting tale of a midwife (Sayuri Yoshinaga), devoted to the memory of her son killed in the cataclysm, who starts receiving visitations by her dead offspring (Kazunari Ninomiya) to commiserate, reminisce and reassure her – and by extension his long-time sweetheart (Haru Kuroki) – in both survivors’ determination to move on from their grief. Via its fantasy premise, the film delivers another initimate, straight-to-the-heart intergenerational character study that is a Yamada specialty. Nominated for 11 Japanese Academy Awards, it won two for the performances of Ninoyima (Best Actor) and Kuroki (Best Supporting Actress). Twilight Time boasts a pair of extraordinary Yamada films in its hi-def Blu-ray library for your consideration. Set a century and a half ago, The Twilight Samurai (Tasogare Seibei, 2002), which became a Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award® nominee after winning 12 Japanese Academy Awards, is the contemplative yet pictorially powerful tale of a once-great warrior (Hiroyuki Sanada) fallen on impoverished times called into service one last time to restore his clan’s tattered honor – and perhaps his own. Moving the timeframe up to the decade approaching and leading into Japan’s foray into World War II, The Little House (Chiisai Ouchi, 2014), also written by Yamada and Hiramatsu, focuses on an intimate family story, set in a petit bourgeois household where a quietly developing romantic affair between the woman of the house and her husband’s artistic colleague has a profound effect on the maid (played in the 1931-1945 sections of the film by Nagasaki: Memories of My Son’s Kuroki) who observes and preserves the secret into old age, where her notebooks from that era come to light 60 years later. Yamada, who turns 85 next Tuesday as he prepares his 85th directorial project, continues to plumb his native land’s history and national character through period pieces, contemporary comedies and the exactingly portrayed lives of precisely drawn characters of all generations. Like many veteran moviemakers who modestly keep plying their craft at a high level, it’s good to welcome him into the international awards conversation again.