Kirschblüten- Hanami (Cherry Blossoms)

April 23, 2009

kirschbluten2 

 

The credit crunch is biting down hard and as I fill out yet another job application to send out into the ether, I’m feeling decidedly stuck in a proverbial rut. It’s easy to become complacent, disgruntled, imagining days gone by and those stretching out as relentlessly similar, a blur of my own tedious thoughts and prosaic goings on. Yet it’s Spring, and as clichéd as it all sounds, it remains the ultimate symbol of new life after all those months of winter darkness. It gets harder to be complacent and to hibernate because Spring is a reminder that life will keep moving on-and it won’t stop to check if you’re keeping up.

 

So is the case in Doris Dörrie’s Cherry Blossoms, or Kirschblüten – Hanami in German and Japanese respectively. As is explained in the film, Spring cherry blossoms are to the Japanese the most beautiful symbol of impermanence. For one or two months only they flower in resplendent abundance then fall like flurries of delicate pink snow, attracting hoards of admirers who gather underneath to share picnics and general merriment, or to take photographs, paint or write poetry, inspired by this natural muse. Dörrie uses principally this notion of impermanence along with the basic plot blueprint of Ozu’s Tokyo Story to conduct the narrative of her film finding Trudi and Rudi (yes really), a married couple deciding to visit their grown-up children following the discovery that Rudi’s health is seriously deteriorating. Landing spontaneously and without explanation upon their elder son’s doorstep in Berlin however, serves only to aggravate himself and his sister; who lives close by. They complain that neither have any time in their busy schedules to spend with the aging couple and sensing the inconvenience of their presence, Trudi and Rudi move on, deciding to visit the seaside instead. By the time the film has reached this stage, Dörrie has been laying the tracks for her motif of impermanence and pointing towards the film’s final location of Japan. The intra-diegetic buzzing of a fly in one early scene seems arbitrary until Trudi is prompted later to tell the story of the ‘mayfly’ which, she reminds, shouldn’t be killed as a pest, for its life spans only one precious day. The gaping emotional distance between parents and children and the dichotomy of the bucolic Bavarian idyll where Trudi and Rudi live and the frenetic, big city buzz of Berlin are just some of the more obvious reminders of life ever-changing. Third son Karl lives in Tokyo and this provides a basis for the relocation from Germany to Japan. However more than this, Trudi has harboured a life-long fascination with Japan, in particular with Mount Fuji which she dreams of visiting and Butoh dancing, which she once practised herself.

 

Now at this point we may think we know the script- Trudi and Rudi decide once and for all to visit their son in Tokyo, seize the day and embrace all that life has to offer before Rudi’s time runs out- right? Wrong. Dörrie does something better here by lulling the audience into a false sense of predictability then creating a plot twist which, by its very nature, reinforces the film’s theme of impermanence. I can’t say a lot more about this without giving the game away so instead I’ll move onto what I feel constitutes the second half and better section of the film.

 

The action indeed relocates to Japan where tradition and modernism are juxtaposed like no other place on earth. However bizarre, the result is an effectual kind of harmony and Dörrie contrasts this with the previously highlighted schisms of old and new. The seemingly unbridgeable gulf of alienation between the aging couple and their children remains so throughout, with the bias of empathy placed firmly with Trudi and Rudi. Dorrie draws us into their world where a mutual, tender love prevails despite the years of domestic ritual and we are invited to recognise this love in the small, intimate gestures such as Trudi’s lovingly prepared meals or her ready attentiveness upon Rudi’s return each day, armed with slippers and warm cardigan for his comfort. The couple’s grown-up children, following the paradigm of Tokyo Story, are callous and self-obsessed with little sense of filial piety. We get to know them only through their sideways remarks and continuous complaining, thus finding little in their characters with which to empathise. This is as Dörrie intends for it’s this notion of even the most fundamental of human relationships; that of parent and child; broken down so completely that there seems no common ground except familial bond which leads to the converse idea; that it takes a perfect stranger to see who we really are.

 

This happens when Rudi meets Yū, a young Japanese Butoh dancer. It’s fairly easy to draw comparisons here with Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation, but aside from the ‘older man meets young girl in Japan’ plotline there are few similarities once beyond this surface layer. True, in both cases the individuals bond through a mutual sense of disorientation in their lives but with Rudi and Yū the relationship is strictly platonic. The friendship is a quirky one, providing much of the film’s light relief but is also the vital vehicle through which Dörrie highlights the bonds of human connection which are not broken, but built, and which transcend even the barriers of language, culture and age.

 

Another film which Kirschblüten did remind me of was Sue Brook’s Japanese Story. This is primarily because of a shared choice in music-both incorporating the Japanese folk song ‘Chinsagu no Hana’ ( Though I have yet to find a translation, at a guess given the contextual use in both films the song may contemplate loss or the ephemeral nature of life) The soundtrack captures the tone of the film well including popular anime- composer Yoko Kanno, Ryuichi Sakamoto and a Satie piece performed by Dörrie herself.

There are other comparisons to be found with Japanese Story, most obviously the meeting of East and West whereby a deeper union of humanity is formed whilst traversing the perceived boundaries of our own socio-cultural constructions. 

 

Taking the bones of her story from an Ozu classic is a brave move and one that could potentially spell disaster in the hands of any director but Dörrie is smart enough to leave plain imitation attempts aside. Whilst paying clear homage to Ozu she finds her own directorial groove confidently with the project and working with a basic structure shapes something new. The film lacks the exquisite delicacy of Ozu’s direction and at times threatens to crumble under the weight of its own sentimentality but this is reigned in enough when it matters to maintain audience respect. Kirschblüten-Hanami is undoubtedly a meticulously crafted film with beautiful and well constructed motifs throughout. Beyond the divisions of old and young Dörrie adds a new dimension by introducing two cultures instead of one, and in doing so invites us to contemplate a notion of ‘otherness’. Butoh suggests a meshing of cultures, of east and west; a Japanese dance art with Western avant- garde influences and a largely Western following. As Yū teaches Rudi the unique way of Butoh it seems she is not only teaching him to dance but to harness and channel the rawest of human emotions. As they pay close attention to the movement and changing depth of their own shadows whilst dancing, audience awareness is once again drawn towards the notion of transience and the impermanent.

For what it all boils down to and what this mesmerising film reminds its audience so beautifully is that we are all, in the grand scheme of things, cherry blossoms. 

Dörrie is no Ozu, but nor is she trying to emulate him. By adapting the screenplay of Tokyo Story she may have set herself up for inevitable comparisons but that’s clearly not what this film was ever about. The  film has its flaws-I mentioned one earlier regarding over- sentimentality at some moments which for me personally threatened to detract from the sincere emotion of more stripped-away scenes. 

There were some extended transitional cuts which didn’t fit with the rest of the film’s aesthetic but I feel these may have been a reference towards Ozu’s “pillow shots” ; what Deleuze would call a “time- image” cut. Did they work? I’m undecided.

 

However, these are fairly minor points in what is overall a competent, brave, deeply emotional film with some wonderful acting, stunning visuals and so much to say about the human condition.

 

 

S. 

 

 

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