Moe no suzaku (1997)

4 05 2008

Kawase’s debut feature is not quite as memorable as her later Shara but it is, for whatever reason, a film that ultimately feels more complete and perhaps, ironically enough, more mature. Once again, she is working in familiar territory. A family drama that takes place within a secluded mountain village. Immediately, many of the “elite” directors in Asian minimalism come to mind: Hou Hsiao-Hsien (particularly A City of Sadness) as well as Kawase’s fellow countryman, Hirokazu Koreeda. It’s quite odd to think that Kawase went from her documentary features to a much more slower-paced style, but then returned to the documentary aesthetic in Shara. It should still be made clear though that she is definitely towards the front of the pack when it comes to modern Asian directors, as well as modern female directors.

Cousins Eisuke and Michiru fall in love over a long period of time, but unrelated issues between their families prevents them from expressing their love. Sachiko is old but still laboring in the fields, while Yasuyo is fed up with the repetitions that come with being a housewife. The cousins’ relationship blossoms while the family undergoes an influx of trials, economically and emotionally.

The French DVD leaves a lot to be desired (as one can see from the screenshots) especially since this seems to be even more visually-focused than Kawase’s other films. Here, as opposed to the usual chaotic handheld camera, we are treated to a very lyrical, slowed-down slice of life. This is, of course, fine by me, but the film is never quite as visually fascinating as its style would believe. On the other hand, the 8mm footage that Kawase fuses with her static shots look fantastic. In a way, this is most likely what a meeting between Harmony Korine and Nobuhiro Yamashita would result in. Such a comparison may seem like a reach, but Kawase comes across as genuine. Never do the stylistic transitions feel forced. If anything, the 8mm footage is what lends the film its very nostalgic tone. Otherwise, it would probably feel incomplete.