A Distant Cry From Spring (1980)

26 01 2008

Tamiko Kizami (played by the always wonderful Chieko Baisho) is a widowed farmer who lives with her only son. She’s constantly working on the farm almost as though it’s an outlet for her to free her emotions. One night, a man named Tajima stops by asking for shelter. She welcomes him in and he leaves the next day. The following spring, he comes back asking only for a job and a place to rest. Tamiko is slow to give her trust to him but when she falls ill, he is left to take care of the house as well as Tamiko’s son, Takeshi. Tajima’s friendship with her son grows which finally allows Tamiko to feel at ease in his presence. Around the same time, we find out Tajima’s secret: he killed a man and he’s been running from the law for two years. He eventually surrenders to the police. This is followed by a very emotional finale in which Tamiko finally articulates her feelings for Tajima, while he is on his way to prison.

Yes, I know. It sounds terrible. It’s very obvious right from the start where the narrative is going, but even the conventional structure is approached with care from Yamada. All the plot points, as melodramatic as they are, come off in a very natural way. This is a true testament to Yamada’s talent as a filmmaker. It is deliberately paced enough that the Hollywood-esque emotional scenes come off as genuinely heartbreaking. In any other context, the final sequence would be hokey but it somehow rings true when juxtaposed with the rest of the film. Of course, the terribly intrusive score doesn’t make matters better but I don’t think these things detract from the film in any significant way.

When compared to Tora-san, this is a much more distinct early Yamada feature, both in style and emotional resonance. Accusations against it as being predictable are justified but man, if it isn’t one of the most beautiful composed films I’ve ever seen. The few conventional cinematic traits of the film never feel too bad when they’re photographed like they are here. There’s undeniably a Malick-vibe going on. After all, we are on a farm and much of it occurs during either, sunrise or sunset. In every other case, though, it’s very different. His work on Ozu films have definitely left an impression. This probably some of the most meticulous framing I’ve seen for a film shot in cinema scope. It reminds me even a little bit of Nagisa Oshima’s The Sun’s Burial but again, this is more on the contemplative side as opposed to the kinetic one.

Since the visuals are so important to this film, it’s also important to watch the right DVD. The Panorama disc says it’s widescreen but it isn’t. It’s cropped and looks like VHS, which destroys two of the film’s more important strengths: the framing and the visuals. Shochiku released a correctly formatted and well-restored version of the film in Japan, but the copy doesn’t have English subtitles. I have to give thanks to AliceFrye for transferring Panorama’s subtitles to the Shochiku copy. 



3 responses

26 01 2008
26 01 2008
Michael Kerpan

Clicking on the period in the first sentence of my previous post brings up this link:


27 01 2008
Jake Savage

I think the title has more to do with the fact that American distributors just like applying season-related titles to Japanese films.

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