Letting go is hard to do in Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s gently moving ghost story, as the genre-hopping filmmaker (Pulse, Tokyo Sonata, The Cure) focuses on a couple’s journey towards acceptance.
Three years after her husband Yusuke’s (Tadanobu Asano) death, Mizuki’s (Eri Fukatsu) lonely existence is shattered by his abrupt return. He is the same man he was when he disappeared: he breathes, he eats, he is absolutely corporeal. He suggests that they go on a journey to the places he has been since his death. Together they visit people, both living and dead, whose lives have been touched by Yusuke, as Mizuki begins to wonder how long they will have together.
Describing a film as gentle might not be the most exciting way to draw a viewer’s attention, but this is a tender love story above all else. Yusuke is eerily calm about the facts of his death and continued presence on this earth, but is obviously the same person who Mizuki fell in love with.
For her part, Mizuki goes through an agonising process of wondering how and when she will lose him again, before seeing how our inability to let go can be a dangerous and damaging thing. The importance of reconciliation and finding ways to connect is a key theme of Journey To The Shore. These returned are not threatening; they simply have unfinished business.
The two lead performances are excellent. Asano (Thor) continues to show versatility with a warm, slightly unreadable turn, while Fukatsu makes her character’s remarkable emotional journey totally relatable.
Kurosawa gives his actors a lot of time and space, making every small gesture or glance tremendously important, and when threats and buried secrets intrude they are all the more affecting. Visually it’s wonderful too, as Kurosawa introduces moments of unexpected warmth and haunting beauty.
It’s a little slow, and self-consciously so, which viewers may find frustrating, but it’s emotionally engaging, moving and beautifully performed, and a journey worth taking.