Technically, the former Fukushima disaster
area is now considered safe for human occupation, but unlike the still off
limits Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, older residents have been much more reluctant
to recolonize. At least that is how it looks to the worst German expatriate
clown in Japan. Much to her own surprise, she feels compelled to help Fukushima’s
last geisha return to her home in Doris Dörrie’s Fukushima, Mon Amour (trailer here), which screens
during the 2016 German Currents in Los Angeles.
Reeling from a wedding jilting, Marie has volunteered
for the NGO Clowns4Help to bring some joy into the lives of elderly disaster
survivors. It was not a well thought-out decision. Frankly, she is not a very
good clown and probably an even worse human being. Just when she is about to
slink off in disgrace, Satomi convinces the expat to drive her to her now dilapidated
house in Fukushima. When Marie realizes Satomi isn’t leaving, she more or less
decides to stay as well.
The tall German is relatively helpful when
it comes to clearing rubble, but she eats a lot. More troubling, her misery
acts like a magnet for all the local ghosts. Rather awkwardly for Satomi, this
includes her late pupil Yuki, whose death remains a profound source of guilt
and angst for the geisha.
very definitely about the figurative and literal ghosts haunting Japan, but it
also has a gently absurdist sense of humor. Frankly, giving Marie charm school
lessons in the middle of the scarred wasteland really doesn’t seem so
outlandish when you are caught up in the moment. After all, they have to do
something to pass the time.
Kaori Momoi gives an Oscar caliber
performance as Satomi. She is an ageless beauty, but also a forceful, no b.s.
presence (if you doubt it, watch her steal the show in Miike’s Sukiyaki Western Django). Yet, she also
vividly and directly conveys all of Momoi’s pain and remorse, while delivering
some surprisingly tart one-liners. She and the gawky Rosalie Thomass make an
effective odd couple pairing, but it is an unequal partnership.
Nanoko’s Yuki is disconcertingly beautiful
and unsettling, duly following the grandly tragic tradition of Japanese movie ghosts.
Honsho Hayasaka also adds healthy servings of humility and attitude as Jushoku,
the sake-pounding Buddhist monk who is just starting to feel again. (FYI, it is
good to know they have regularly serviced sake vending machines conveniently
located throughout Japan.) Clowns with Borders founder Moshe Cohen and musician
Nami Kamata merit shout-outs as well for being good sports. Essentially playing
themselves, they deserve better help than Marie.
Hanno Lentz’s absolutely arresting black-and-white
cinematography perfectly captures the barren, surreal-in-real-life post-3/11
landscape. This is an elegant, finely tuned film that ought to be playing at more
of the Fall film festivals, especially given Dörrie’s considerable
international reputation. Very highly recommended, Fukushima, Mon Amour screens tomorrow (10/21) at the Egyptian
Theatre, as part of this year’s German Currents.
Labels: Doris Dorrie, German Cinema, German Currents '16, Kaori Momoi