While Kiyoshi Kurosawa is most well-known for crafting horror-masterpieces like Cure (1997) and Pulse (2001), spectators that delve a little bit deeper into his oeuvre will immediately realize that Kurosawa is quite a versatile director. While he still delivers horror-thriller masterpieces like Creepy (2016), he has proven himself to be able to excite audiences with more philosophical narratives like Before We Vanish (2017) and historical drama’s like Wife Of A Spy (2020). But can Kurosawa excite us with his romantic drama, an adaptation of Kazumi Yumoto’s novel Kishibe no Tabi?
Ever since her husband Yusuke (Tadanobu Asano) went missing, children’s piano teacher Mizuki (Eri Fukatsu) has been subjectively hampered by an inability to accept her husband’s radical absence and to give up her hope to see him return alive. One night, after three years’ absence, he finally returns. He immediately states that he has committed suicide in the sea near Toyama and that his corpse has been devoured by crabs. The next day, Yusuke invites her to go on a journey with him and see some of the beautiful places he saw and meet some of the people – deceased and living – he met along the way.
Journey To The Shore immerses the spectator in an estranging world, a world fluidly blending the mundanity of life with the unheimlich and otherworldly nature of the beyond, to deliver a touching exploration of arrested mourning, unresolved subjective regrets, and the impact of unfinished business on the deceased as well as on the living.
The spectator is introduced into the narrative by a blossoming of questions. Why did Yusuke come back? For what reason? Is he unable to move on or does he have some unfinished business? Why does he invite his wife to take a journey together? What is the purpose of this journey? What can this journey mean for Mizuki?
To gain some sort of answer to all of these questions, we need, just like Mizuki, to undertake the journey, without truly knowing its true goal nor its destination. As encounters happen and little stories unfold – stories exploring unresolved subjective struggles and conflicts, lingering feelings of guilt, regret, and sadness, and the possibility of finding the strength to move on, answers slowly start to be revealed.
These moments further offer Mizuki a new glance at the subjectivity of her deceased husband and their relational past. One can thus call Mizuki’s journey intersubjective because it enables her to question Yusuke about his radical absence and their relational past as well as meet those people and see those places that attained a subjective importance for him. In this sense, Yusuke’s invitation was not merely an invitation to see some nice places and meet friendly people, but also an invitation to gain a different look at his subjectivity.
The inhibition that marks Mizuki, furthermore, underlines that her journey throughout Japan and the encounter with the subjective pain of others might allow her to overcome her own position of subjective ‘death’ and heal some of her own subjective injuries. Yet, how? To be able to answer this question, we need to explore the dynamic of Mizuki’s subjective inhibition. In our view, the emptiness that structures her daily life is function of an irresolvable guilt that lingers within her consciousness. It is, in fact, not difficult to see that Mizuki’s inhibition, expressed by her refusal to accept the radicality of her husband’s absence as well as by her inability to give up her hope of seeing him again, is caused by her wish to avoid resolving the question of her own culpability for Yusuke’s disappearance. By leaving the reality of his death in abeyance, Mizuki does not have to deal with with the looming riddle of her own guilt (Narra-note 1). So, the possibility for Mizuki to break her deathly inhibition solely depends on whether her journey allows her to resolve the riddle of her own guilt and enables her to fully accept his death and inscribe it within her subjective narrative.
The composition of Journey To The Shore stands out due to its gentle rhythm and its poetic imagery – imagery that has the power to linger in the spectator’s mind long after the film has finished (Cine-note 1). The gentle nature of the compositional rhythm is function of Kurosawa’s thoughtful balance between static and dynamic moments – within scenes as well as within shots. The gentle visual rhythm is, furthermore, instrumental in allowing the poetic flow of some speech-interactions to come fully on their own and touch the spectator (Music-note 1).
Kurosawa also expertly utilizes his horror-techniques, e.g. slow-moving spatial dynamism, a focus on the act of looking to generate an uncomfortable curiousness in the spectator, … etc., to underline the unheimlich character and estranging nature of certain interactions. His reliance on such techniques is also evident in the way Kurosawa approached the colour-design of Journey To The Shore. The darkish nature ofthe colour-scheme powerfully echoes the forlorn and inhibited inner-state of Mizuki. By reading the dark shadows of the narrative spaces as being subjective, the spectator gains a sense of Mizuki’s arrested subjective state, a state function of her inability to accept his death.
The faded colours, on the other hand, underline the strangeness of the world Mizuki finds herself in. The narrative spaces are, in a certain sense, neither fully part of the darkness that surrounds the reality of death nor the light that celebrates the joy of one’s existence. Yet, these colours do not only evoke that Mizuki finds herself within a space that hangs between concrete life and immaterial death, but also that she, as subject, feels neither fully alive nor truly dead as subject.
With Journey To The Shore, Kiyoshi Kurosawa delivers an elegant and touching exploration of arrested mourning, unresolved subjective regrets, and the impact of unfinished business on the deceived or the living subject. What makes Kurosawa’s narrative so engaging is the vague and implicit approach to Mizuki’s subjective inhibition – the spectator needs to piece the impact of her journey together on her subject – and the fact that Kurosawa infused poetic meaning into the visual feel and atmosphere of his narrative.
Narra-note 1: This subjective dynamic explains why Mizuki asks Yusuke whether his death was her fault or if he blames her for not noticing his ‘illness’.
The answers Yusuke gives her – Of course not; you couldn’t have known – is very important for Mizuki’s further trajectory. With the riddle of her guilt solved, her subjective inhibition loses one of its causes and the path of mourning and grief becomes a possibility for her.
Cine-note 1: It has to be said that Journey To The Shore does not deliver a lot of poetic visual moments. Yet, these rare moments have a strong impact on the spectator because they contrast with with mundane but estranging imagery and because these moments are full of eloquent meaning.
Music-note 1: These poetic moments are sometimes made more poignant by the musical accompaniment. The strangeness, on the other hand, is highlighted by the more dramatic musical pieces.