Directed by Kiyoshi Kurasawa (2015)
Trying to review a film full of metaphor, twists, dream states and symbolism usually leads me to the crutch of reading someone else's reviews first. I'm not going to do that with Kiyoshi Kurasawa's "JOURNEY TO THE SHORE", which I watched all of 15 hours ago at the San Francisco International Film Festival - so my doofus interpretation will have to stand on its own merits. Cutting to the quick, this film concerning a husband who's quietly returned from the dead to reestablish relations with his wife is a quietly meditative yet highly engaging film that kept me rapt for over two hours, trying to puzzle it out. Here's what I think happened.
When we meet Mizuki, single and alone at the start of the film, it's clear she's living a fairly drab existence teaching piano to kids and cooking for one. When her husband Yusuke, missing and presumed dead for 3 years, shows up in the apartment one night, the expected flurry of questions and/or fright doesn't materialize, and their relationship is revealed as one that's missing certain elements of trust and intimacy, while still being clearly rooted in love and some level of mutual dependence. He's dead, however, and admits to having been depressed and stressed when he killed himself at sea in a different part of Japan.
He takes her on a "road trip" to his haunts (ahem) from the previous three years. Yusuke is a gentle, if uncommunicative, husband, and by coming back to Muzuki, he's clearly trying to make amends for something. Was it for having killed himself in the first place? For having cheated on her during their marriage (something we find out about in the course of their rapprochement)? To give her a child? By all measures the film, which also features other ghosts who reappear in their normal human guises, is unclear or dodgy about motivations - but I suspect it has much to do with tying up ends left loose by either the departed or the remained. Until these things are resolved, the dead can't truly die - but once they are, they're free to leave earth for good.
I found "Journey to the Shore" to be quite poignant in parts - especially near the end, as Yusuke delivers a short lecture in one of the small towns they visit about every individual's fortune to be alive at this important point in our universe's evolution. Sure, it could be heard as hokum, and the sometimes-swelling strings in the film's score lend one to that conclusion - but I feel that the excellent acting and direction of this one overpowers any & all pretension to maudlin soppiness. Huge kudos to Eri Fukatsi as Mizuki, who is frustrating as a fictional character but wonderful to watch as an actress, trying to find her place in her revived relationship and in life. I truly hope she gets that baby I believe they made in one of the film's final scenes.