Before going in, I was a bit apprehensive because the trailers seemed to give away a bit too much. However, this film proved to be a lot better than I assumed it would be.
Yuri – played by Takako Matsu – was attending a class reunion on behalf of her deceased elder sister Misaki – played by Suzu Hirose. Mistaken for her sister, Yuri had to start corresponding with Kyoshiro Otosaka – played by Masaharu Fukuyama –, her own first love and her sister’s ex boyfriend. And so, their bizarre correspondence began …
Great camerawork. The director of photography really did an awesome job framing nearly every shot so beautifully and quietly. Most of the shots in Acts 1 & 2 were dimly lit as hardly any lighting was provided, or so it seemed. However, that’s what made the picture of two girls walking together amazingly impressive as they shone in broad daylight in their full glory. It just made me feel as if the two girls, Ayumi and Soyoka, were reincarnations of their mothers. This is the kind of scene you have to see in a darkened theater.
I also liked the background music. The piano sounds make you feel serene and calm. Lately, there are many Japanese films that use orchestra as if to say “This is where you shed tears, Go ahead!” and those films just get on my nerves. I think director Shunji Iwai, along with Takeshi Kitano, is the best filmmaker in Japan who knows how to use discreet, transparent music. The tick tuck sound of a clock in Ayumi’s home was memorable as it made it much clearer that there was no one around. A beautiful entanglement of light and shade and sound and silence was simply breathtaking. While there are many creators who try to be artistic but end up being artsy, Shunji Iwai is definitely the one who is artistic not because he tries to be but because HE IS. You have got to love his works.
The scene where Kyoshiro visited his deceased first love was purely heart-wrenching. He hadn’t been able to move on for 25 years, and now he has to. The fact that the girl you were once in a relationship with is gone forever without you knowing that life was such a bi*ch to her is crushing. Whatever happened, Kyoshiro left Misaki, and that’s where her life began to get darkened. Being about as old as Kyoshiro, I was able to what was going on in his head. If I was a teenager or in my twentieth, it would be virtually impossible for me to sympathize with him in this moment. Tears welled up in my eyes as his lonely soul finally had the moment of redemption.
To think, when writing a letter, you are conversing with yourself. You write as you read and you read as you write. In your head is the person who will receive the letter. This is how Kyoshiro, an unpopular novelist, created his first and only book whose title was Misaki. That was his way of keeping Misaki alive. Now, the bizarre correspondence has brought Misaki back to life one more time, and that is the beauty of this story. All the characters relived the life of Misaki, and so, they start to live their lives. The Last Letter from Misaki, the mother, to Ayumi, her daughter, was meant to pass the torch of life. Great stuff.
The biggest gripe I have with this film is that there are a couple of characters whose story arcs were left half-explored, one being that of Yuri’s husband and the other being that of Yuri’s mother in law.
Also, I just didn’t understand why Kyhoshiro never picked up on the difference between the handwriting of the letters. His knowing that Yuri was pretending to be Misaki wasn’t a good explanation, for there were two kinds of letters, those sent by Yuri and those sent by Ayumi. It’s unthinkable that Kyoshiro, a novelist who is into writing stuff with pencils, never noticed the handwriting differences
I wish that the makeup artists could have done a better job. Misaki and Ayumi, both played by Suzu Hirose, and the high school girl Yuri and Soyoka, both played by Nana Mori, matched the description right down to a tee and that caused me some confusion. If they resembled just a little less, the drama revolving around them would have been much more compelling.
This is a well-shot, well-acted and well-directed film. Going back and forth between the past and the present and Miyagi and Tokyo felt like a smooth ride. Retelling the story of a deceased person is kind of a cliché, but the letter correspondence is such an old communication that it’s new today. And when a new story is penned by a director as good as Shunji Iwai in a well thought-out and well-executed manner, you get a masterpiece.
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