Horror has many go to Monsters; one will have its turn in the limelight before passing it on to the next evolving a little along the way. The subtleties of titles like the Uninvited or the Haunting have subsided only to be replaced by the cacophony of Amityville Horror or Insidious. Take Japan or many an Eastern nation; they have a much humbler interpretation of the ghost al a Mizoguchi’s Ugetsu or Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s latest Journey to the Shore. Kurosawa’s film has no wailing banshees, spectres and wraiths; in actuality his new film doesn’t come remotely close to genre cinema. His first film to make any impact in the West since Tokyo Sonata, Journey to the Shore is based on a novel from Kazumi Yumoto, adapted by Kurosawa & the writer of cult anime Michiko & Hatchin, Takashi Ujita.
Eri Fukatsu is Mizuki, a single woman living a listless existence; going through the motions, occasionally teaching children piano – Japan chews up and spit out millions in the same position. Washing up after another lonely meal, Tadanobu Asano, her long missing husband Yusuke, appears out of nowhere. The strangest part, Yusuke is long dead – he says his body sits at the bottom of the sea eaten by crabs; it wouldn’t be found even if you knew where to look. This is no lie or exaggeration, these ghosts are loved ones given a final chance to say good-bye.
No fuss is made, not only are ghosts an accepted norm they also have a form that makes them impossible to differentiate from the living. Only Ghosts can identify other Ghosts. Yusuke and Mizuki travel from place to place and revelations like this inform the background of each new person the reunited pair stays with. One arrangement features someone who is not only a Ghost he also runs a local newspaper, the next illustrates the emotional process needed to summon before eventually revealing the bigger picture in the final town the two visit. Even if Journey to the Shore can be described by the ever trite journey of discovery lexicon, watching the life return to Mizuki and seeing the love return to her life is never less than charming, passé or not.
At 2 hours and 7 minutes Kurosawa’s film is too long. The first and last acts establish the rules whilst developing the story, background and core relationship. To describe it another way, there are five visits and most are necessitated by them filling in the blanks of the marriage, revealing a new facet of the dead Yusuke or the beautifully dramatic and subtle climactic exorcism. On the page each episode will flow as part of a grander narrative, however with any self-respecting book adaptation there needs to be a mark of economy. The middle act almost goes on without end, even with scenes where Asano entertainingly deliberates on the absoluteness of nothingness the film reaches a point where there is little else to be said – yet drones on for a further 20, 30 minutes. It’s a historic by-product of Japanese cinemas leisurely pacing and while it’s a small issue in the grand scheme, Journey to the Shore flirts with tedium.
Argument could be made that those 20 or 30 minutes are entirely premeditated, that Kurosawa is using the film as a framing device for Mizuki’s state of mind wanting this time with her late husband to last as long as possible. Perhaps what Lanthimos offered in Alps is the better option, maybe these last doomed moments together just makes it harder to say goodbye and given how the relationship between Mizuki and Yusuke develops, it’s certainly an easy argument to put forward. Furthermore, it makes for a far more interesting proposition.
Kurosawa’s should be recognised for the strength of his convictions, the world of cinema wants its ghost stories told around the campfire and he brings Journey to the Shore, a film that warms the heart instead. Even if reasons can be attributed, it still struggles to maintain interest for a good half an hour. Lucky it is then that the impact of the final act fills in all the blanks in its mythology while showing how emotionally brutal this post-life reunion can be with the love of your life there one minute, gone the next. Hopefully by Kurosawa sticking to these convictions and not once engaging with the horror bunch the ghost story can recapture some maturity and subtlety of the ghost’s earliest and most thought-provoking moments.
- Stunning 1080p transfer of the film in its original aspect ratio
- Optional English subtitles
- Stereo and 5.1 soundtrack options (uncompressed on the Blu-ray)
- Theatrical trailer
- 24-page booklet containing a statement from Kurosawa on the film, production images and a new essay by Anton Bitel