The full title, Maboroshi no hikari, means "illusion of light," and as one character explains late in the film, it is something that men sometimes see far out at sea — a beautiful light that lures them away from shore, perhaps never to be seen again. We know that such things happen, but why, or to what end, is not ours to guess.
Maborosi deals with this notion of inconceivable loss through the story of a young woman, Yumiko (Makiko Esumi, miles removed from her mannered "Cinematic Kabuki" performance in Pistol Opera), happily married to Ikuo (Tadanobu Asano). They have an infant son, Yuichi, and they live somewhere in Japan, simply but with great affection for each other. At one point Ikuo's bike is stolen, and his response is to steal it back and repaint it — after which the two of them go riding at night.
The director, Hirokazu Kore-eda, films these early, tender scenes with great distance and coldness. It's several scenes before we ever get to see their faces. Shots begin and end in total darkness. We do hear their voices — but they're also distant, muffled, as if from another room. They are receding over the horizon even as we first meet them, for reasons that become clearer as we go on.Read more
His wife's dead, his mother's senile, his tiny paycheck is eaten away by debt and he has to bring up his two kids by himself. In fact, he's so preoccupied with misery that his co-workers can't help but notice he's neglecting his own personal hygiene. Then his childhood sweetheart walks back into his life almost by accident, and everything changes.
This isn't the premise for a modern-day drama, but rather one of the best period films from Japan in some time. What makes Twilight Samurai so interesting is that it's period in its setting, but contemporary in its feeling. Change a few of the details and you could have a story about a harried salaryman trying to keep his head above water. It could even be taken as an allegory for some aspects of modern life, but the story works just as well on its own.
Twilight Samurai is aptly named, since it takes place in the last years of the samurai (the mid-1800s) and features a hero, Iguchi Seibei (Hiroyuki Sanada), who himself seems to be past his sell-by date. He's not that old, but life has conspired to crush him: his wife died after a long illness, his mother is slipping into senility, and he's forced to make birdcages as a sideline business just to be able to keep his two girls fed and clothed. His day job consists of maintaining the clan's storehouse of dry goods, and once his day's work is over he rushes home to take care of things there rather than join his work companions for a drink or three. They feel bad for him, but are otherwise unwilling to step in and do anything.Read more