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Produced by Naohito Hagihara, Muneyuki Kii, 
Masahiro Kobayashi, Naoko Kobayashi,
Sakura Wakita, Naoshi Yoda   
Written and Directed by Masahiro Kobayashi        
Starring Tatsuya Nakadai, Eri Tokunaga,
Hideji Ôtaki, Kin Sugai,Kaoru Kobayashi

Several weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending a screening of Haru’s Journey, a superb Japanese film, at The Japan Society’s Japan Cuts yearly film festival in New York City.

Haru’s Journey tells the tale of a co-dependent grandfather and granddaughter’s tumultuous relationship as they leave their sea-side shack and journey by foot and train to visit a series of remaining living relatives. The film is a melancholic exploration of what it means to grow old, the intertwining emotional conflicts that compromise a life-long journey, and the fragile interconnectedness of family relationships.

Veteran actor Tatsuya Nakadai delivers a strong performance as the stubborn, bitter grandfather Tadao. He is the heart and soul of this film. Young newcomer Eri Tokunaas also turns in a memorable performance as his granddaughter Haru.

Before the screening, the director of the film, Masahiro Kobayashi, had a few words to say while introducing the film. He noted that nearly all structures and all landscapes seen in the film were wiped out by the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Because of this, his film has received more distribution and more screenings, especially in Japan, where the film has effectively become a historical document showing the destroyed region as it was just before the devastation. The director has mixed emotions about this dark twist of fate.

Having the foreknowledge about the fate of the region that serves as the backdrop on-screen casts a dark shadow over the experience of watching the film, heightening the already existing melancholy that permeates not just the story, but the already somber cinematography as well.

After the film, there was a brief Q&A with the director and the audience. He explained that this sort of “kitchen sink” drama has fallen by the wayside in Japan, and it was difficult for him to find funding for the film. He also explained that he forbid actors Tatsuya Nakadai and Eri Tokunaas from socializing during the production, so as to heighten the on-screen tension.

Haru’s Journey will see a limited release in the US, but will eventually make it to video, and I highly recommend it. It’s a personal, small, well-told tale, beautifully shot, that stands out amid the usual slate of overproduced blockbusters.

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