Journey To The Shore (2015)

Review of film that formed part of the ‘0th’ Edition of the London East Asian Film Festival (LEAFF 2015)

“Don’t rush it,” piano teacher Mizuki (Eri Fukatsu) tells her young pupil at the beginning of Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Journey to the Shore (aka Kishibe no tabi). “Nice and slow.”

“I think your tempo is a bit too relaxed,” objects the little girl’s mother – but Kurosawa is with his heroine all the way, allowing his film’s story to unfold at its own steady pace. The plot is essentially contained in the title, as Mizuki, suddenly rejoined by her husband Yusuke (Tadanobu Asano) after an absence of three years, accompanies him on a jaunt to the seaside where he had originally disappeared. Yet neither Yusuke nor Mizuki (nor indeed Kurosawa) is in any great hurry to reach their prescribed destination (when asked, “Will it take a long time?”, Yusuke firmly replies, “Yes”). Along the way, in a meandering, episodic trip down memory lane, they will visit the places and people who have been significant in Yusuke’s life, and whom he feels he may have “left in the lurch” with his unheralded withdrawal.

If the prominence of piano playing at the beginning allies Journey to the Shore closely to Kurosawa’s Tokyo Sonata (2008), which was seen as something of an ‘arthouse’ departure from the writer/director’s earlier work in the odder ends of genre (with, e.g., Cure, Pulse, Bright Future and Doppelganger), in fact this latest feature is rooted in the supernatural. For although Yusuke is flesh and blood, and as tangible and real to others as he is to Mizuki, he is in fact a ghost, having suicidally drowned three years earlier in the sea off Toyama – and his mysterious return offers Mizuki a nice, slow coming to terms with her late husband’s identity, his impact on others and his eventual egress.

On their way, they meet several of Yusuke’s old employers, his former lover (Yu Aoi) from the dentists’ office where he worked, other people still haunted by the dead and unable to let go or move on, and even other ghosts. In one rural area, Yusuke picks up exactly where he left off, giving the locals seminars on particle physics that also double as eschatological disquisitions on life being defined by more than the void beyond. “Nothingness” he tells the crowded room, “isn’t the same as meaninglessness.”

So Journey to the Shore is a little bit like Truly Madly Deeply (1990) or The Returned (2004) – a film that uses the revenant presence of the dead to bring into sharp focus questions about the nature of living. If Yusuke was lost at sea, Mizuku is a little lost herself, and her new role as psychopomp enables her to see the world differently, to give her husband a proper send-off, and to equip herself emotionally to return to her own life. Drawn from Kazumi Yumoto’s 2010 novel, Journey to the Shore ends exactly where its title promises, in a liminal space between land and sea, life and death – and so, this long goodbye offers, in its own time, a gently consoling message to anyone who has ever suffered grief and loss, or had their feelings left unresolved.

© Anton Bitel