DIRECTOR: PETER DELPEUT
COUNTRY: NETHERLANDS 1998
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Walther Vanden Ende
MUSIC: Loek Dikker
CAST: Johan Leysen, Toshie Ogura, Rina Yasima, Yoshi Oida, Kumi Nnakamura
SUPER FEATURES: The photographic work is really nice.
Seen at the 22nd Portland International Film Festival
You know the film is a tribute to a bygone era when the whole thing is done with pictures for backgrounds, and will not take but a handful of external shots for the duration of the whole film.
This story is based on pioneering photographer Felice Beato, who went to Japan to do his work before the 20th century arrived. While there, he took a woman as a geisha and wife, but as the story develops we find that things did not work out very well. Several years later, he decides to go back to Japan to try and see if he can mend things with his wife, O-Kiku, and he starts his search where they lived. His voyage takes him through many of the friends that were near him, and some of the subjects that he had photographed, as well as one student of his. And in the end he gets the chance to meet his ex-wife, but he has finally realized that this world, that may have been so romantic at one time is not for him, and in fact not for foreigners. They do not help him find her much, and he is getting near the end of his rope and ready to return home, when a friend's wife comes up to him and lectures him on his romantic notions, and then tells him where he can see her one last time.
What is truly beautiful in this film is the way that is done. Almost totally done with the photographs that master Beato left behind, it is a study in an art form that has lost its beauty, an art form that at one time held much promise. The sets for Nagasaki, and all the cities that he visits are all seen through the photographs, and the glass prints (positives, today known as transparencies) a memory of a bygone era and time, when things appeared so much better than now.
As we meet people that were once a part of his past, we are also coming to grips with the fact that Beato has to let go of his past. An older fisherman he liked, was actually the father of the woman he married, and Beato never recognized him. The old man tells his story, and it is a sad one, but to no avail. His loneliness and sadness only increases as Beato fails to recognize that this man was the father of the woman he married. And later we meet a prostitute that he had photographed many times, who had always loved him, but her syphilis is eating her apart and she is nearing the end of her rope. And here, appears the one series of external shots. A young girl, presumably this geisha's daughter, wants to leave with him, but he can not take her with him. For all the moments in the story, this one sits in our stomachs the hardest, as the young girl is doomed to become the very same thing that are all the others in the same house that he is visiting.
In many ways this is not a film. It really is a sort of slide show, or photography show, with the people in it secondary to the real picture. The
beauty is in the pictures, no matter how romantic they may be, the reality is becoming more and more sordid and sad for everyone he had known in his past. The situation between him and his wife, then, never materialized, probably because of his westernized notions about love, something that may have been totally foreign in those days to many girls in Japan.
A really well directed film, extremely well thought out, and done with such care and love that it is hard to think of it as bad, or not worthy of
attention. It is not one of those films that has to hit you over the head to do its thing. It just does it, and you will fall for it along the way. Perhaps a bit slow, but intentionally so, as it gives the major characters a real nice tone of characterization, so rarely found in many films. Of
special mention is the excellent touch that the old man played by Yoshi Oida, who turns out to be his ex-wife's father, and Beato never realized it.
Great conceptual design and attention to detail in this film. Excellent acting.
4 of 5 GIBLOONS
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