The lingering pain of inexplicable tragedy, and how it swells and recedes in a person's everyday life, is the subject of Maborosi, Hirokazu Koreeda's profoundly affecting meditation on loss. Popular fashion model and ex-volleyball star Makiko Esumi makes an auspicious acting debut as a young Osaka mother struggling to understand the apparent suicide of her husband (Tadanobu Asano). Several years after his death, she marries a sensitive widower (Takashi Naitoh) and moves with her infant son to a remote village on the harsh shores of the Sea Of Japan. Though her new life is fulfilling beyond her expectations, Esumi remains haunted by unresolved grief over her former husband's mysterious death. With its spare effects, impeccably composed long shots, and close attention to the woman's perspective, Maborosi (meaning "illusory light" or "mirage") echoes the influence of Japanese masters Kenji Mizoguchi (Ugetsu) and Yasujiro Ozu Tokyo Story), and makes similar demands on the viewer's patience. But the many rewards—including Koreeda's uncommon ability to express his heroine's internal life without a single close-up, Esumi's quiet yet deeply moving performance, and breathtaking landscapes that threaten to swallow the characters whole—more than compensate for the funereal pacing. The 33-year-old Koreeda, who began his career in documentary, has a gift for observing life as it's lived, accumulating simple, seemingly banal scenes into an unforgettable reflection on the frustration and helplessness of trying to explain the ineffable.
More from The A.V. Club