My sincere thanks to Stacey Harwood and BAP for inviting me to be a guest blogger this week. It’s been a process and an adventure to give focused consideration to each of my posts, revisit themes that are important to me as a person and a writer, and share them with BAP’s readers. I welcome hearing from you if you have comments or questions and look forward to continuing the exchange. Thank you for reading—for paying attention. —ML
"Sometimes life presents us with large, painful, unanswerable questions, and we cannot simply ‘get over them.’" —Roger Ebert, from his review of Maboroshi
When I feel saturated with words and thoughts, I turn to images to recalibrate. I first watched Kore-eda Hirokazu’s exquisitely beautiful and sad film Maboroshi no Hikari (Maborosi is the English title) alone at the Roxie Theater in San Francisco’s Mission District. The word “maboroshi” 幻の光 roughly translates as “phantom light” or “mysterious light”. The film made such an impression on me that I went home and wrote about it in my journal, so have the date: December 5, 1996. I’d run across an ad for it in the Roxie’s free announcement sheet and something about the thumbnail synopsis intrigued me enough to travel across town on a weeknight to see it. Maboroshi is Kore-eda’s debut film and remains my favorite of his. Over the years I’ve internalized its moods and layers with numerous viewings. As certain books synchronistically “appear” in our lives when we most need them, Maboroshi was exactly the film I needed at that juncture in my life. I was reeling from a personal loss and was at loose ends, swimming in the liminal, with absolutely no idea which way to turn or how to configure my life. In its way, the film provided a tether, an empathic lens through which I could begin to understand my own loss and feel seen and understood. This is what great art can do.
The film opens with a memory or dream of a grandmother leaving her son’s family to return to her home village “to die”. As the old woman walks across a bridge, a young Yumiko (the film's protagonist) runs after her, begging her to come back, but the old woman keeps walking. She doesn’t return. Fast forward to Yumiko as a 20 year-old adult: she’s living in Osaka in a small apartment near the train tracks and is married to her childhood friend Ikuo, who works in a factory. They have an infant son, Yuichi. The couple’s relationship is playful and affectionate. One day Ikuo doesn’t return from work and a policeman arrives at their apartment to give Yumiko the news: Ikuo has been killed by a train as he was walking on the tracks. As his body has been disfigured by the trauma, the police don’t allow Yumiko to see it. The subsequent scenes of Yumiko’s grieving are wordless and, except for a minimalist score, imbued with deep silence.
Five years later, a matchmaker introduces Yumiko to a widower with a young daughter a little older than Yuichi. They live in a remote fishing village (Noto) on the Japan Sea. Yumiko agrees to marry him and moves to Noto with her young son. The widower, his daughter, and his aging father welcome the young woman and her child and present them to the community. Yumiko's new husband is kind and patient and gives her time to acclimate. The children take an immediate liking to one another. Things seem to be looking up for Yumiko. But she continues to be haunted by the mysterious and violent circumstances of her first husband’s death.
Stephen Holden described Maboroshi in the New York Times as “a pictorial tone poem of astonishing visual intensity and emotional depth. Watching the film, which has little dialogue and many lingering shots of the Japanese landscape, one has an uncanny sense of entering the consciousness of the main character and seeing through her eyes….. Instead of searching for psychological explanations, it discerns a deeper design for Yumiko’s life.” [italics mine]
The works of art that profoundly mark our psyches are the ones we return to again and again. Maboroshi is such a work for me. More than anything, it helped me to live with “large, painful, unanswerable questions” when little else could. I’ll leave you with the English-subtitled trailer.
Mari L’Esperance 3.6.15