Maborosi (Japanese: Maboroshi no Hikari) is director Hirokazu Kore-eda’s debut film from 1995. In it, he explores the life of a 25-year old single mother (Yumiko) after the unexpected death of her husband (Ikuo). The film follows her as she then finds herself in an arranged marriage with another widow while still trying to cope with her feelings about Ikuo. She brings along her son (Yuichi) to live with her and her new husband, Tamio. They live their simple, everyday life in a quaint sea-side Japanese fishing village, while the film slowly explores their emotional hardship. This Maborosi review will contain SPOILERS.
Maborosi seems to perfectly convey Yumiko’s grief and despair, yet rarely incorporates much dialogue or visible emotion. Kore-eda instead asks the viewer to watch a brief scene with Yukio and then contemplate what she is experiencing as he gives us long takes of nature and the village. It even sometimes mimics Yasujiro Ozu with the unmoving camera set mid-scene, acting as if we, the viewer, are actually there – as if the camera is our gaze. This could easily fail in the hands of a less competent director, but somehow he achieves everything he sets out to do.
For example, there is a scene about 40 minutes into the film where Yumiko watches in the background as her son sits in the lap of Tamio’s father. We watch this scene with no dialogue and little movement. Then, after a brief talk with her step-daughter, the camera cuts to a long take of a room, then a staircase, and finally, to Tamio silently sitting beside her at night as she stares out the window. These scenes of silent contemplation are as long, and often longer than the scenes of action themselves. In them, we are able to think – to give events and themes our own interpretation. To me, in the scene of “action”, I initially see Yumiko’s struggle, but as I watch over the next moments, it comes to light that maybe she is relieved and content that her son is now able to grow up with a father and a family. It’s a masterful use of slow storytelling and contemplation; although, if there is a drawback, it is that occasionally a static shot will be held too long, or it will show too many scenes without something of import happening.
Yet, her relief is not all she experiences. She is still grieving, living life after death, even years later when remarried. Kore-eda explores this grief by pairing her with an understanding, similarly grieving husband. They clearly have love and respect for each other, and both laugh and chat away nights and days. They have more somber moments, such as when he returns home drunk one night and they finally talk about the sadness leftover from both of their partners’ deaths. In a perfect (and I truly mean that) climax, Yumiko expresses why she is still grieving. She wonders if her husband’s death was on purpose, and if so, why? Ikuo relates to her an answer of sorts, telling her about the maboroshi, or a light that fishermen often go after to their own peril for no apparent reason. These scene’s (and much of the movie’s) emotional impact is amplified by the masterful score, the beautiful distant cinematography, and the simple but purposeful dialogue. Maborosi is an astounding debut that, while it asks a great deal of the audience, gives so much more in return.
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