La Vérité

La VeriteDirector: Koreeda Hirokazu

Released in 2019.

Another excellent film written and directed by Koreeda Hirokazu. It explores the relationship between a mother and daughter, and the space between memory and truth. Juliette Binoche and Catherine Deneuve are wonderful, and so was Ethan Hawke (whom I usually want to smack).

After Life

after-life-11Director: Koreeda Hirokazu

Released in 1999.

In this film, set in a station between life and the afterlife, the dead are given one memory to take with them, the only one they’ll be allowed for all eternity. Which one would you choose?

In the film, the dead are given two days to decide. The admin workers at the station interview the newly deceased about their life, and then design, stage and film the chosen memories. The films are viewed and the dead depart for the hereafter, each with their memory. Nothing else will be recalled.

Frankly, it sounds ghastly, although perhaps it won’t just be about the endless viewing of one short film clip, but more like a permanent feeling of bliss. I won’t reveal more because of spoilers, but I love how the film explores the different ways people come to terms with their lives and how death allows for perspective. There’s much to think about — and I’m sure the film will reveal something new each time it’s viewed (I’m definitely planning on re-watching it). By the way, this is the third film in which Soseki’s Japanese interpretation of ‘I love you’ is referenced, and it doesn’t ever get old, does it?

Still Walking

still walkingDirector: Koreeda Hirokazu

Released in 2008.

This film made me melancholy. Perhaps it’s a sign of me growing old(er). Just like how I sometimes get flashes of anxiety about illness and death. It was painful watching the bickering old husband and wife; the son dreading spending time with his aged parents; the old folk looking forward to seeing him again, not knowing that he and his wife are discussing making their next trip shorter. There’s much more to the story, but I just kept thinking about lonely old age and being forgotten.

(N.B. Abe Hiroshi who was terrible in The Garden of Evening Mists is rather good in this.)



Director: Ogigami Naoko

Released in 2012

Sayoko (Ichikawa Mikako) is a bit of a manic pixie dream girl, but thankfully, there is no tight-arsed male whose world she has to upend or soul she has to save in her adorably quirky way. She does hope for a man though. She wishes to marry and honeymoon in Hawaii, but her loneliness doesn’t take the film down the rom-com route that I expected it to. Instead, what we get is an exploration of the various ways people can feel alone and isolated. Is the cure a cat? Sayoko’s many cats help to plug the hole of loneliness in her life and the lives of those who rent them. But, as the film shows, a cat isn’t a miracle cure, but then again, neither is a man or a dream vacation.

Our Little Sister

Our_Little_Sister_posterDirector: Koreeda Hirokazu

Released in 2015

As one of four sisters, I’ve always been drawn to stories about sisters. From Alcott’s Little Women and Chekhov’s Three Sisters to Woody Allen’s Hannah and Her Sisters and Diana Wynn Jones’s The Time of the Ghost, the relationship dynamics between sisters, and the studies of their various personalities are endlessly fascinating, to me.

In this film, when their estranged father dies, Sachi, Yoshino and Chika discover they have a young half-sister named Suzu. After meeting her at the funeral, the three women invite their new sister to live with them at their seaside home in Kamakura. I was half-expecting and dreading angst and sulking from 14-year-old Suzu, and plenty of hiccups as the sisters adjust to their new family member and Suzu gets used to unfamiliar surroundings, including a new school and friends. However, it’s a thankfully peaceful and smooth transition, with Suzu fitting well into her sisters’ lives and making friends easily. Any conflict and friction comes from the two older sister’s personal lives, as they struggle with romantic relationships and their own private demons. Suzu is, furthermore, forced to finally deal with her anger towards their mother, and this helps her empathise more with her sisters and to make an important choice about the future.

My Little Sweet Pea


Director: Yoshida Keisuke

Released in 2013.

A mother who abandoned her children attempts a reconciliation when the kids are grown up. I didn’t think I’d feel sympathy for her, but forgiveness came easily, as the present and then the past revealed that there was more to her than just the mistakes she made as a young mother. (Why does every Japanese film I choose to watch end up making me weep?)


Director: Takita Yōjirō

Released in 2009.

I’d forgotten how much this film makes me cry 😭 It reminds me of the privilege of performing the last offices for patients in hospital. This was something that was important (for me and many nurses I knew) to carry out, especially if I’d spent some time nursing someone. To me, it was the last thing I could do for patients, and their family members. 

Departures 1



Miss You Already_BD_boxDirector: Ogigami Naoko

Released in 2017.

Tomo (Kakihara Rinka) is neglected by her mother, Hiromi (Mimura), and is often abandoned when Hiromi hooks up with a new lover. When this happens, Tomo goes to live with her uncle, Makio (Kiritani Kenta). The next time this happens, Makio tells Tomo that he has a live-in partner, a transwoman called Rinko (Ikuta Toma). As it turns out, Rinko is just what Tomo needs, offering her the love and tenderness Tomo has never experienced with her own mother.

I thoroughly enjoyed this film. Although it’s idealistic in parts, it’s also realistic in others. I guess the idealistic situations show what could be and that appealed to me because what a bore to only show doom and gloom. Also, happily for a very few, the idealism is real. There are kind, loving and generous people in this world, and it gives me hope to think of them sometimes.

The ending of this film is perfect in balancing what is true with what is desired. At least there is the promise of hope and comfort even if pain is bound to happen.

37 Seconds

37Director: Hikari

Released in 2020

This film handled a difficult topic with grace and compassion. It was uncomfortable to watch, but the lead, Mei Yakama, was heartbreakingly adorable, making it easy to empathise with the character, and also anxious to stick it out with her.

Yuma is a manga artist with cerebral palsy, molly coddled by her mother (Kanno Yusuzu), and yearning for independence. She’s fortunate, in her exploration of identity and sexual experience, to meet with kindness, which gives her courage and helps her to make the leap to self-acceptance and, ultimately, freedom. It’s hard, but Yuma is not as helpless as her mother thinks she is and her courage is buoyed by friendship and hope.

The sex worker Mai (Makiko Watanabe) and her driver Toshiya (Shunsuke Daito) are just what Yuma needs in her life and I can’t help wonder if she will eventually find love with Toshi — his expression doesn’t just show sympathy, surely. But first, Yuma must come to terms with herself and her relationship with her mother. Yusuzu is superb as Yuma’s mother, making you cringe at her over-protective behaviour yet still understand the worry and fear she feels. As a mother I could totally relate.

When I Get Home, My Wife Always Pretends to Be Dead

wifeDirector: Lee Toshio

Released in 2018

Chie (Eikura Nana) greets Jun (Yasuda Ken) each evening with a scene featuring her death. One day she’s been swallowed by an alligator; the next shot through the head with an arrow, and so on. Once he gets over the first shock, Jun plays along, but is puzzled and somewhat worried: Is Chie upset about something and is this her way of telling him about it? Jun confides in his colleague, Soma who, it transpires, has his own marital problems.

As the viewer, I felt, intensely, Jun’s amusement and then his growing sense of frustration. Chie was harder to read, but her calm and cheerful demeanour seemed to suggest that her actions were no cause for concern. Still, I did wonder if she had some deep-seated issues with death and dying, especially as her mother had passed away when she was just five.

All is revealed eventually and it’s wholly satisfying how both the humorous and sadder aspects of the story made me reflect on the gift of companionship and the potential loneliness of seemingly close bonds. Ultimately, making that connection is a matter of will.